Fantastically Flavoursome Pasta Bake

Day 6 of the Cupboard Challenge, and in the process of preparing dishes for Big Sis’ impending birthday celebration I’d managed to add a couple of red peppers to our supplies.  For a short while I was worried that this might be cheating, but then I remembered…this is my game so I can make up the rules.

It’s not cheating.
To any VIPs reading this: I know, and I’ll say it before you do – 7 or 47, some things never change 😀

The beauty of this dish, as with much of what we cook, is that it’s pretty willing to flex according to what you have in your stores.  Treat the following as a guide…this is by no means a recipe that needs to be slavishly followed!

OrecchietteNote however, that the shape of your pasta does make a difference to the finished dish.  I like to use orecchiette for this as all the chopped pieces of meat and veg get caught and held in the pasta dimples.  Little tubes, like tortiglioni work well too, as do the small shell shapes of conchigliette.  Long pasta, such as spaghetti or linguine is not so great.

Number of servings depends on how much of everything you use, and on how big the receiving appetites are.;-)

Ingredients
Sufficient cooked pasta for your serving requirements.
Courgette – diced
Red pepper – diced
Soffritto
 Dried porcini mushrooms – soaked in hot water for around 30 mins (keep the liquid for the sauce)
A handful of diced pancetta
A splash of olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated parmesan for topping

Sauce Ingredients
Another splash of olive oil
Crushed garlic – a lot or a little, as you prefer
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
a good splash of the mushroom soaking liquid
1 chicken stock pot (or stock cube)
Approx. 150g crème fraîche (or more, or less…flexible, remember? 😉 )
A few sprigs of fresh thyme – leaves picked from stalks
More sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Music

Got your groove on?  And your apron if you wear one?  Let’s set to it then…

Preheat oven to gas mark 6/200°C/400°F.

Put your cooked pasta into a large bowl.

Drain the mushrooms (keeping the liquid) and roughly chop – add to the pasta.

Prepared vegHeat the oil and cook the soffritto over a medium heat until it starts to soften.  Turn up the heat a little and add the red pepper and courgettes; continue to cook until the peppers are just beginning to soften and the courgettes are starting to brown.

Add to the pasta and mushrooms.

Cubed pancettaChuck the pancetta into the same pan used for the vegetables, and fry until beginning to crisp.  Soak off excess fat with kitchen roll, then add to pasta and veg.

Pasta mixMix pasta, veg and pancetta together, season with salt and pepper, then tip into a shallow, oven proof dish.

See what I mean about those lovely veggies getting held in the pasta?  Like teeny tiny serving bowls they are 😉

Garlic and thymeNow for the sauce:  wipe out your pan with kitchen roll, leaving the thinnest layer of pancetta fat…sauté the crushed garlic in that (just a few seconds)

Tinned chopped tomatoes

Chicken stockpotAdd the chopped tomatoes, stock pot and some mushroom liquid.  Stir well and bring to a simmer.

Creme fraicheRemove pan from heat.  Stir in crème fraîche, thyme leaves, salt and pepper.

Liberally sprinkled with grated parmesanPour sauce over the pasta and sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan.  Be liberal but not insanely generous…you want it to crisp up a bit, not end up in a gloopy blob.

Baked cheese often seems to look burned in my photos - in reality this was perfectly browned ;-)
Baked cheese often seems to look burned in my photos – in reality this was perfectly browned 😉

Bake in the preheated oven for around 20 minutes, or until top is golden brown and bubbling.

Pasta bake with baked fennelOn this occasion we had baked fennel on the side, but a fresh green salad is good too.

In its baked form this dish wasn’t wildly photogenic…but does it really matter when something tastes this good?
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Blue cheese, pear and pancetta salad

With only one to cater for, the focus for Day 4 of the Cupboard Challenge was to use up some of the really small portions of stuff.  In the end it was a quick and simple affair.  Just like this post 😉

Quantities are for one serving.

Ingredients
1 ripe pear
A hunk of Stilton or other blue cheese, similar size to the pear
A handful of cubed pancetta
Baby spinach or other green salad leaves
A handful of walnut pieces (optional)

Dressing ingredientsFor the dressing
2 dessert spoons mayonnaise
1 dessert spoon natural yoghurt
1 teaspoon mustard
A splash of balsamic dressing (or just balsamic vinegar)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Music

This won’t take long, so press play and let’s get movin’…DressingPut all the dressing ingredients into a small jar, tighten lid and shake vigorously.  Or put them into a small bowl and stir energetically.

Adjust seasoning according to taste – bear in mind the saltiness provided by the cheese and pancetta to the end dish.

That’s your dressing done.Cubed pancettaHeat a frying pan and cook the pancetta cubes over a medium to high heat until brown and crispy.  Set to one side on kitchen roll.

Toasted walnuts would have been the ideal finishing touch for this salad, so even though we had none in, and thus I didn’t use any, I’ve included them in the ingredient list.  In hindsight, I should have used the toasted sunflower seeds that we do have in to provide that glorious contrasting crunch.

If you have some nuts or seeds in the house and you want to use them to top the salad, now is the time to toast them…a quick shake ‘n’ stir over a high heat in a dry frying pan will do the job.
Pear and StiltonQuarter and core (but don’t peel) the pear.  Cube both pear and blue cheese and place in a bowl.

This picture shows sun dried tomatoes strewn over the dish.  I advise against this - the texture was all wrong and their flavour jarred with the rest.  
This picture shows sun dried tomatoes strewn over the dish. I advise against this – the texture was all wrong and their flavour jarred with the rest.

Pour dressing over the cheese and pears; stir gently to combine.

Make a little bed on your plate with the salad leaves, pile the dressed cheese and pears onto it, and scatter the pancetta (and nuts, if using) over the top.

That’s it, you’re done!

Grab a fork and eat.

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