You can click here to jump directly to the recipe, though there are some words between here and there I hope you find useful.
When I think about comforting flavors, my mind sometimes drifts towards childhood memories of cream of mushroom soup, egg noodles, and chicken. While it isn't my intent to recreate that dish, there is something comforting about those flavors.
Béchamel sauce is a wonderful sauce that is fairly easy to make and is endlessly customizable. It has a short list of ingredients but requires some technique and attention at critical moments to yield a velvety smooth texture and lusciousness. While I learned how to make this in restaurants, there are variations to make it to your preference. Here are a few tips I think are important to keep in mind:
I love the texture of shiitake mushrooms, and they also have a bolder flavor than a regular button or crimini. Mushrooms are all somewhat interchangeable, so it’s more about what you want to use as it will have little impact on the steps of the recipe.
Sometimes I really want some chicken to pair with this type of recipe, so here's what I do when that fancy strikes. Season bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs with salt, pepper, and dried herbs, and cook them in a non-stick skillet skin side down over low heat. Let the skin slowly sizzle and crackle. Turn them over after a while (when nice and crispy), and add fresh thyme and butter, and finish in the oven until they are fully cooked.
Serves 2 entree portions or 4 side portions.
The béchamel is optional; feel free to skip it altogether. If you do skip it, use a spoonful of butter and a splash of pasta water in its place when making the sauce.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat, and add the flour and mix together with the whisk. Keep whisking over low heat until the paste cooks and bubbles, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Add a splash of milk and whisk together quickly to keep the pan hot. Repeat this step until all the milk is added. The "trick" is to keep the pot hot and quickly whisk small amounts of the milk into the base at a time.
Bring the mix to a simmer while whisking; simmer for about 1 to 2 minutes. Turn off the heat.
Whisk in 1/4 cup parmesan and salt to taste. Cover and set aside.
In a medium-size saute pan, combine the oil and pancetta over medium/high heat.
As soon as the pancetta starts to brown, add the mushrooms. Quickly stir and let sizzle in the pan.
When the mushrooms have become slightly golden, add 1 tablespoon of the butter along with the garlic and thyme. Stir together and lower the heat to low. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes or until the garlic has become translucent.
Turn the heat off and add ½ cup of the bechamel while stirring together to form the sauce and then remove and discard the thyme sprigs.
Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoons of kosher salt. Cook the pasta for the suggested time, tasting it at the lower number and cooking until the al dente meets your preference.
Using the sieve, remove the cooked pasta and add it to the sauce when it is ready.
Toss the cooked pasta with the sauce to combine; adjust consistency with pasta water if needed.
Toss or stir the remaining parmesan into the pan with the pasta.
Plate the pasta and drizzle the remaining béchamel to garnish.
While the recipe was written with our Fresh Campanelle in mind, our Whole Wheat Campanelle pasta or Creste di Gallo pasta are wonderful alternatives. If you are substituting dried pasta, you'll want to adjust the pasta weight to 6 ounces for the recipe as written. If you are preparing 4 full entree portions just double every ingredient and use larger pots/pans.
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