Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Baked Mushroom, Tomato and Cheese Pasta

This is my own creation. It would be a great party or buffet dish. It is a combination of Greek and Italian influences along with a necessity of using up the garden's cherry tomato crop. I planted some unusual tomatoes this year. One plant is sprawling all over one quarter of the garden. It has cherry sized tomatoes, but they are bright yellow with a distinctive top like a pear. They are pretty and sweet as well. They are borne in clusters of three or four and there are tons on the plant. I also grew cherry like tomatoes that ripen to look exactly like an orange gumball. I almost made a mistake when I saw a couple in a dish on the counter. I was sure I was going to have a chew. I also did regular grape tomatoes...John had to try one of those upside down tomato planters. Good, but no better than on the ground...still had to wash them. I also had a couple of plum tomatoes in one corner of the garden.

In this recipe, I was not looking far enough ahead to make enough white sauce. When I realized this, I added a can of Campbell's Mushroom soup with just enough milk to thin it to sauce consistency.

Prepare a lot of these components ahead by an hour or so, and it will be less hectic to finish near dinnertime.

Pre-prepare the following components....

1. Mince half a pound(more if you like) of button mushrooms stems and all. Saute in olive oil(or if you prefer, butter) till they collapse and become very soft. Set aside.

2. Melt five tablespoons of butter in a saucepan. Add four tablespoons of all purpose flour(Always..Always unbleached flour). Stir the flour into the butter and cook for several minutes till the flour has cooked and loses its raw flavor. (Do not do this till it colors. The mushrooms will color it some but you basically want a white sauce.) Add a pinch of salt, pepper, nutmeg and cayenne.(You might add mustard to this as well, but not for this mushroom recipe.) Add the first mushroom mixture and two cups of milk(warm) and whisk till smooth.(smooth as possible with all those mushrooms in it) Stir continually till it has a chance to bubble and cook the flour mixture into a smooth sauce. add a small handful of parsley.

This is where I messed up. I made just about half what I needed, forcing me to use the mushroom soup. If you like the idea of the soup, it could be great with any number of creamy Campbell's condensed soups to vary the flavor.

3. Chop a large onion and halve a pint or more of cherry tomatoes. You can also use plum tomatoes cut into chunks.

4. Chop a generous handful of basil. This would also be wonderful with sage or parsley.

5. Cook one pound of pasta like Penne, small rigatoni, farfalle or shells. It should be quite Al Dente as it will continue to cook in the oven.

6. Oil or spray a lasagna pan. I use glass or ceramic to ease clean up.

7. Mince two or three cloves of garlic.

8. Grate your favorite mixture of cheeses in a bowl. Two cups would be fine, but three would be luxurious. I use Parmesan, mozzarella and(domestic) Provolone.(The aged imported that I usually use for Provolone is sharp, which I love, but too strong for this dish) It would also be wonderful with Gruyere, Taleggio, Fontina or any number of good melting cheeses.

Have ready, about half a small can of tomato paste.

Generously oil a large frying pan.
Over medium heat, saute the onions till just clear.
Add the garlic and continue to cook for a minute.
Add the halved tomatoes. Cook in the oil briefly. If they seem to need moisture, add a bit of broth or water. Cook the tomatoes till tender, and flatten them slightly, but do not allow them to lose their shape and color into a mass. Part of the beauty of this dish is the mix of tomato colors. If you are using just one type of tomato, this is not as important.
Push the tomato mixture aside and add the tomato paste to the bare part of the pan. Stir in the bottom of the pan, bringing in the juices of the tomato to thin it down. Add water if this is necessary.
Bring the rest of the mixture into the paste and make a thin sauce, adding water or broth if necessary.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Remove from the heat and add the chopped basil leaves.
Stir and allow to cool while you are beginning the assembly process.

Pour half of the cooked pasta in the lasagna pan.
Spread half of the white sauce with mushrooms over the pasta.
Dot this mixture with half of the tomato mixture so that every fork-full will yield a bite of tomato.
Add another layer of pasta, white sauce and tomato. Drizzle a half cup or so of milk over the entire pan so that the moisture of the white sauce will not be sucked up by the pasta in the baking process.
Cover the entire top of the dish with a heavy layer of cheeses.
Drizzle liberally with olive oil.
Bake in a 375 degree oven till hot and bubbling. About 25 minutes should do it, but run it under the broiler if necessary to brown the cheese a bit.

Now, this would lend itself to any number of bumper crop vegetables. Chopped Zucchini, peppers of various colors and heats, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant...anything that will cook tender either added to the tomato or instead of it. You could also caramelize a ton of onions cut into rings till golden brown and nearly collapsed instead of the other veggies...this would be wonderful with Swiss or Gruyere cheese especially. Try this with left over Caponata, Ratatouille or a similar vegetable dish

Layer in some shredded cooked chicken, either your own or perhaps grocery store roaster chicken if you are not up for mostly vegetarian.

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