Some time ago I glanced through a recipe for paccheri, the giant round tubes pasta, with fresh peas and mint. I don’t recall the source, but I remember that it wasn’t fresh pea season. So I waited until I could get some fresh peas and by the time I was ready for the recipe, I had changed it considerably. The pasta I used was a bag of pennoni I had in the pantry; I substituted kale for spinach, and since I could hardly recall which cheeses were used with the paccheri, I came up with my own combination below. Apparently I simply cannot resist tampering with a good pasta dish. You will not be disappointed.
Ingredients (Yield: 6 to 8 servings):
- 3/4 stick unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano for dusting pan
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano
- ½ cup grated Primo Sale cheese (or Fontina)
- ½ cup grated Asiago cheese
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups milk (lowfat is fine)
- 1 large egg
- Fresh ground salt and black pepper
- 1 pound pennoni or your favorite large rigatoni (or paccheri)
- 1 cup shelled fresh or frozen peas
- 1 cup coarsely chopped kale, blanched, hard stems removed (spinach or arugula works well too)
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- A dusting of nutmeg powder
- A dusting of red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 12” springform pan; dust bottom and sides with 1/3 cup Parmigiano cheese. Melt the remaining butter stick in a large saucepan over medium heat. Gradually add flour, whisking it in for several minutes. Slowly add in the milk, whisking often. When sauce begins to simmer, lower heat to medium. Continue whisking for 15 minutes, until sauce is thickened. Remove sauce from heat and add Primo Sale (or Fontina) cheese, 1 cup Parmigiano and half cup Asiago. Add egg and whisk to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Cover sauce and keep warm.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until crunchy al dente; it will finish cooking in the oven. Drain pasta and transfer to a bowl. Add peas, kale, parsley and mint; stir in cheese sauce, mixing well to incorporate.
Transfer half of pasta mixture to prepared springform pan; add a layer of ricotta and half the lemon zest. Layer the remaining pasta mixture, filling the pan, and top with the rest of the ricotta and lemon zest. Sprinkle 1/4 cup Asiago cheese on top. Cover with aluminum foil and bake pasta for 30 minutes. Top with remaining 1/4 cup Parmigiano and bake uncovered for about 10 more minutes, until surface is golden brown. Let rest for 20 minutes; remove springform pan sides to “unmold” the baked pasta. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons each of chopped parsley and mint, cut into wedges and serve.