Mushroom Bacon Ziti, Grated Swiss & Baby Greens by Foodie’s Chef Laura Brennan
December 13, 2018
I have had a ‘hankering’ for ziti-shaped pasta and so built a dish around this wish. Maybe I was channeling my Italian grandmother; ziti and rigatoni were the standard-bearers of her Neapolitan kitchen. (I didn’t eat penne until I was out-of-the-house and cooking for myself.) Nostalgia aside, this is a delicious pasta dish with depth of flavor. I have made a mushroom sauce (aka: mushroom bechamel/velouté) in lieu of straight heavy cream; the texture is better, less rich---pasta finished solely with heavy cream is a restaurant conceit. The swiss cheese gives the dish an umami- nuttiness---grated parmigiana cheese would lend a sweeter finish to the dish. Both are fine; it’s just a nuance of flavor.
- Prep: 15 mins
- Cook: 30 mins
- Yields: 4 to 6 Servings
3 ‘strips’ smoked bacon (about 3 ounces), well-chilled
2 large shallots, peeled
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil, plus more as needed
1-pound cremini mushrooms
1 clove garlic, peeled and mashed
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) all-purpose flour
Pinch kosher salt, plus 1-2 tablespoons for cooking the pasta
Fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
1 cup whole milk (plus more as needed)
1 cup chicken stock (plus more as needed)
5-6-ounce piece excellent quality swiss cheese, coarsely grated on the large holes of a cheese grater
1-pound dried, ziti pasta, preferably Italian (they use a harder durum wheat and produce a more-‘toothsome’ product)
3-4 ounces baby greens or baby spinach
2 tablespoons chives, fresh or freeze-dried
Begin by freezing the bacon slices for 10 to 15 minutes. This will harden the fat and make it much easier to cut across the strips into thin slivers. Sliver the bacon, set aside.
Quickly rinse the mushrooms. Cut the stem-ends flush with the caps and quarter or halve the mushrooms, depending on their size. Quarter-inch chunks of cut mushrooms are the goal. Set aside.
Finely dice the peeled shallots. Heat a large sauté or shallow pan over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive or canola oil. Don’t let the oil get very hot; not shimmering or smoking-hot. Add the sliced/slivered bacon to the pot and cook stirring often to render and slightly crisp the bacon. Add the diced shallots and continue to cook over fairly low heat until the shallots are translucent. Season with a pinch of salt. Add the mashed garlic and let it cook for 30 seconds or so…
Raise the heat to medium and add the prepared mushrooms to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently to soften and brown the mushrooms. They should ‘squeak’ a bit during the sautéing. Season with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.
Set aside when finished. Juices will accumulate in the bottom of the pan.
Make the sauce.
Heat the milk and chicken stock together in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Add any accumulated juices from the sautéed mushrooms that have collected. Pour all the heated, combined liquids into a measuring cup or bowl and set-aside.
Make a “roux”.
Use the same saucepan that you used (above) to heat the liquids. Melt the butter over low heat until lightly foaming. Off the heat add the flour all-at-once. Whisk to combine thoroughly and return to low heat. This is a “roux’; the thickening agent.
Cook the roux over very low heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened. Very slowly add the still warm liquids to the roux while whisking constantly. Scrape the bottom and edges of the pot to get all the flour-butter-roux dissolved and incorporated. Cook over very low heat, the mixture will slowly thicken, especially when it comes to a simmer. Keep stirring/whisking. This is a fairly small amount of sauce, but I would still let it cook for 20 minutes or more. If it gets too thick add more stock or milk, a few tablespoons at a time. The finished sauce should just coat the back of a spoon.
(The longer the bechamel/velouté cooks the more delicate the sauce becomes…the flour changes from ‘pasty’ to sublime’ and ‘silky’ on the tongue.
Finish the dish. Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil and add 1-2 tablespoons kosher salt. Cook the pasta to ‘al dente’; that is, not completely soft and with a bit of a bite left to it. Drain and reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Return the drained pasta back to the still hot cooking pot. (Off the heat, now.)
Coat the pasta with your mushroom sauce. Add most of the grated cheese to the pot and stir rapidly to melt and incorporate. Adjust the texture of your sauce by adding some reserved pasta-cooking water, a little bit at a time. Taste. What does it need? More cheese? Salt? Fresh ground pepper?
Stir in the greens, they will quickly wilt. Add the chives too.
Serve immediately….or fill a buttered casserole dish with the finished pasta. Top with buttered breadcrumbs and the dish, after 25-30 minutes in a 350-degree oven becomes a baked pasta.
(It should be looser if you are going to bake it…add more reserved pasta-cooking liquid to it before it goes into the oven.)