Writings on curious recipes, food I've tasted around the world and the quest for finding the perfect blueberry muffin.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Oven-baked pasta with mushrooms and mozzarella

I confessed in the previous post of having a slight obsession with cheese lately. And I said that this is partially do to a magazine I bought last week, which has basically not left my side since the purchase. It contains 60 mouth-watering recipes, in which Italian cheeses are the stars, and I would simply like to cook them all. I can't stop looking at them, and I also can't decide what to try next.

Pasticcio di chifferi e scamorza?
Lasagne con ragù ai due formaggi?
Polentina tartufata ai formaggi?

Yes, these are difficult decisions.

But I can tell you about the first dish I tried. Mezze maniche con funghi e mozzarella - an oven-baked pasta dish with spring onions, mushrooms, mozzarella, parmesan and thyme.

Oh yeah, and a bechamel made from milk and the liquid which was used to hydrate the dried mushrooms. Genius.

Choosing to make this dish was easy. You see, it incorporates two more of my current obsessions: mezze maniche and oven-baked pasta (pasta al forno). I have my friend Marco to thank for that, who hosted a dinner last week at his house and made an amazing oven-baked pasta using mezze maniche, ragù, bechamel and lots of provolone. So good.

Since then, I've been wanting to make something similar at home - I just didn't know when I'd have time to make the ragù. So when I spotted this, I was sold. It was so easy and quick. There's about 10 to 15 minutes of active work - slicing and grating cheese, chopping mushrooms and onions and making a bechamel, throwing pasta into salted, boiling water. But after that, your work is basically done.

You coat the partially cooked pasta in the bechamel.

Then you layer on the mozzarella.

And because that's not enough cheese, you add a nice sprinkling of parmesan.

And finally, you add little flakes of butter. (Though, you could probably leave that out, but really, at this point, you might as well just go with it...)

Then you bake it for 15 minutes, passing it under the grill for the last two.

Simple, unfussy, cheesy goodness.

There's really not much else to say. Except for: make it. Make it now.

Mezze maniche with mushrooms, mozzarella and parmesan
adapted from Il meglio di Sale e Pepe, April 2012


320g mezze maniche
20g flour
200ml milk
200g of mozzarella, patted dry with a kitchen towel and sliced; alternatively you can use smoked scamorza or provolone (piquant or sweet)
20g of dried mushrooms
2 to 3 spring onions
30g of parmesan cheese, grated
1 bunch of thyme
40g of butter, divided
Olive oil, salt, pepper


Soak mushrooms in 200ml of lukewarm water. Preheat oven to 180°C // 350°F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Start by making the bechamel: Melt 15g of butter and a little bit of olive oil in a saucepan. Stir in flour and cook out for 1 minute, stirring with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat. Strain the mushrooms, reserving their liquid and combine the liquid with the milk. Gradually add the liquid mix to the flour and butter, stirring continuously. Once all the liquid has been added, return the saucepan to the heat and let it come up to the boil, while continuously stirring. Once mixture boils, turn down heat and let the sauce simmer for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta in boiling water for about 4 minutes less than it says on the package. While the pasta cooks, clean the spring onions, discard the roots and the green parts, and finely chop. Rinse mushrooms and chop as well. Heat a little bit of olive oil in a pan and fry onions, mushrooms and thyme.
Drain pasta, and toss with the fried onions and mushrooms and the bechamel.

Transfer pasta to a buttered, ovenproof dish and layer in the mozzarella. (I placed all my mozzarella on top, but I should really have layered it in with the pasta). Top with grated parmesan cheese and remaining butter, if using.

Bake for 13 minutes, then finish under the grill for a further 2 minutes.


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