August 11, 2011

Alfredo Pasta Bake

Pasta.  It is such a versatile ingredient.  You can make so many simple dishes.  This is why I love it.   You can simply add a little olive oil, your favorite fresh herb, salt and pepper for a super light no-sauce spaghetti.  When I’m in a hurry I like to melt about 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and let it brown just a little until I smell that nuttiness.  Then I stir in a splash or two of balsamic vinegar, season with salt and pepper and taste.  That’s what I call a BBB Sauce. (Brown Butter Balsamic sauce) 
Just because you’re on a diet or trying to eat healthier, doesn’t mean you can’t have pasta every now and then, especially if you use the whole-wheat version.   We’re all human so we crave these delicious carbs.  It’s okay.   You should give in and enjoy.   It’s also a great way to get kids to eat their veggies.  Mix veggies in with pasta together with a light sauce and it will all taste good to them.   The tasty sauce will coat the veggies adding flavor.
I made this dish when we had a friend over to watch a TV show one night.   I wanted something creamy but not too heavy.   I’m all about cream sauces of any kind.  I love alfredo sauce but it’s always so rich and filling.    So I tried not to make so much of it to mix with our pasta and veggies.   You don’t want the pasta to be swimming in sauce but you also don’t want it to be dry.   I love how this turned out.   A small portion of this gave me the fix I needed for the creaminess I was craving. 
Alfredo Pasta Bake
1lb penne (or other fun pasta shape such as bowties)
2 c frozen peas
3-4 slices cooked bacon, diced or crumbled into bite-size pieces
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
¼ c heavy whipping cream
4 tbsp parmesan cheese, shredded (plus 4 tbsp for top)
salt & pepper to taste
fresh grated nutmeg (optional but adds a nice flavor – just run the seed over a micro plane about 4-5 times.  You don’t need much just the hint.)

Cook the pasta according to directions on package.   Drain pasta, reserving ¼ c of the water to set aside.  Then stir pasta in a large bowl with the peas (this helps defrost the peas).   Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.   Prepare a 3- quart casserole dish with butter or spray with cooking spray.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan.  Stir in the flour and let it soak up all the butter until it’s like a paste.   Then whisk in the whipping cream until there are not clumps.    Whisk in the parmesan cheese until melted. Whisk occasionally while it cooks and thickens.  Don’t let it boil.   Season with salt and pepper to taste and the nutmeg if you choose.    Once it’s warmed through and thickened up just a bit, pour the sauce in the large bowl over the pasta and peas.  Stir in half the bacon.   If it gets too thick or glue-like, pour in some of the reserved pasta water to help thin it out.  It should be creamy.  Pour the pasta mix into the prepared casserole dish.  Sprinkle the remaining bacon pieces over the top and the remaining parmesan cheese.   Bake about 25 minutes.  Serve with your favorite salad.  Serves 6-8 generous portions.

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