Sunday, February 19, 2017

Mezzi Occhi di Lupo Pasta Casseruola with Romano Besciamella, Roasted Red Pepper and Asparagus

     A Hot Tasty Baked Wolf's Eye Pasta Casserole For A Chilly Day! 
     Northern Italian style food for the winter season tends to be rich and hearty.  Cooking influences from France, Austria and Switzerland can be noticed in Northern Italian restaurants that cater to tourists.  Cream sauce pastas are more frequently seen on menus where tourists congregate, like at ski lodges and historic places.  Catering to the needs of guests is part of hospitality and Italy has been in the tourism business since the days of ancient Rome.
     Oddly enough, a few Italian chefs that I worked with, would eat no cream sauces.  When asked why, they answered, "Cream sauce pasta is food for tourists!"  Restaurants where Italians go to eat are not usually tourist oriented.  In fact, the respect for traditional Italian cuisine runs so deep in such places, that designing an entrée with a cream sauce for tourists would be practically unheard of.  
     Today's casserole recipe definitely is not a traditional Italian recipe.  Many of the ingredients are Italian and this adds to the appeal.  Today's recipe is not really a tourist trap recipe either, but it would be well received by guests at a ski lodge, where rich comfortable food is appealing after being out in the cold mountain air.  In fact, this is what today's recipe is all about.  A hot pasta casserole with vegetables and a rich cheese sauce is nearly irresistible on an ice cold winter day!    

     Formaggio Romano Besciamella:
     This recipe yields about 1 1/2 cups. 
     Step 1:  Heat a sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
     Add an equal amount of four, while constantly stirring with a whisk.  (The roux should look smooth and shiny, not caky.)  
     Constantly stir till the roux a pale whitish yellow color.
     Step 2:  Add 1 3/4 cups of milk while stirring with a whisk.
     Add 1/4 cup of cream.
     Add 1 small pinch of nutmeg.
     Add 1 minced garlic clove.
     Add sea salt and white pepper to taste.
     Stir occasionally as the sauce comes to a gentle simmer.  (The consistency will be very thin at this point.)
     Step 3:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Simmer and reduce till the sauce is a thin sauce consistency that can coat the back of a spoon.  (The volume will be a little less that 1 1/2 cups.)  
     Step 4:  Add 3 tablespoons of finely grated Romano Cheese while stirring with a whisk.
     Stir till the cheese melts into the sauce.  (The cheese will thicken the sauce to a medium thin sauce consistency.)
     Step 5:  Remove the pot from the heat.
     Keep the sauce warm on a stove top.

     Mezzi Occhi di Lupo Pasta Casseruola with Romano Besciamella, Roasted Red Pepper and Asparagus: 
     This recipe yields 1 hearty entrée.
     Mezzi Occhi di Lupo translates to Wolf's Eye Pasta.  This is a thin gauge short tube pasta that is perfect for making a baked casserole.   
     Step 1:  Cook 1 portion of Mezzi Occhi di Lupo Pasta in a pot of boiling water over high heat till it is almost al dente.
     One minute before the pasta becomes al dente, add 15 to 20 thin pencil asparagus spears that are about 3 1/2" long.
     Continue boiling till the pasta is al dente and the asparagus spears are blanched.
     Step 2:  Remove the pot from the heat.
     Cool the pasta and asparagus spears under cold running water.
     Drain the water off of the pasta and asparagus.
     Step 3:  Place the pasta and asparagus in a mixing bowl.
     Add 3 tablespoons of small diced roasted red bell pepper.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of minced Italian Parsley.
     Step 4:  Add 3/4 cup of the Formaggio Romano Besciamella Sauce.
     Toss the ingredients together.
     Step 5:  Place the pasta mixture in an 8" wide individual size casserole baking dish.
     Try to arrange some of the asparagus spears on top of the pasta, so it looks nice.
     Step 6:  Spoon a generous amount of the remaining sauce over the pasta.  (About 1/2 cup.  Add enough to prevent the pasta from drying in the oven.)
     Step 7:  Place 1 thick slice of Plum Tomato on the center of the pasta.
     Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil on the tomato slice.
     Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of finely grated Romano Cheese over the tomato slice and the pasta.
     Step 8:  Place the casserole dish on a baking pan.
     Place the pan in a 325ºF oven.
     Bake till the ingredients are hot and a few light golden highlights appear.  (Do not brown this pasta or the flavor will become bitter and the asparagus spear tips will become dry!)
     Step 9:  Remove the pan from the oven.
     Allow the pasta to cool for 1 minute, so it becomes a safe serving temperature.
     Place the casserole dish on a doily lined serving platter.
     Garnish with an Italian Parsley sprig.
     Viola!  A rich comfortable baked pasta for a chilly day.

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