orecchiette with mushrooms, chard, and ricotta pan sauce

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Ingredients:
1 to 2 large bunches of green or rainbow Swiss chard, to taste
6 to 8 ounces of bacon, chopped (I use diced pancetta from the deli section of Trader Joes or Fresh and Easy)
16 ounces dried orecchiette pasta, or other bite-sized pasta
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I used the rendered fat from the pancetta)
1 large shallot, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
10 ounces assorted mushrooms, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces (I used oyster, cremini, baby portabella, and shiitake mushrooms)
1/4 cup white wine
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, finely chopped
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes, to taste, optional
2 ounces Asiago, parmesan, or pecorino, freshly grated, plus more for garnish (I used both Asiago and parmesan cheeses)
1/2 cup fresh, whole-milk ricotta cheese, plus more for garnish
1 to 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg, to taste
cherry tomatoes, cut in half, to taste

Method:
Separate chard stems from leaves; cut both in bite-sized pieces. Set aside.

In a deep large skillet, cook bacon or pancetta until browned and crispy. Remove bacon and drain on a paper towel. If desired, leave about 2 tablespoons of fat in the skillet and use it to sauté the vegetables.

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to boiling.  Add orecchiette to boiling water. Set timer for 10 minutes.

While pasta is cooking, heat butter and olive oil or bacon fat in a skillet used to cook the bacon. (For added flavor, do not wash skillet to get all the bacon flavor into the sauce.)  Sauté shallots and garlic over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add mushrooms and chard stems, stirring occasionally until softened, about 5-6 minutes. Deglaze pan with white wine to loosen all the bits of flavor from the pan.  Add thyme and parsley and season with salt and black pepper. Turn heat on low until pasta and chard leaves are cooked.

After 10 minutes of cooking pasta, add chard leaves and blanche for 2 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid.

Add pasta and chard leaves into skillet with the mushrooms. Place over lowest heat setting.  Add crushed red pepper, and about 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water. Add grated cheese and ricotta and stir to until well combined. Add ground nutmeg. Add the cherry tomatoes and sprinkle most of the bacon, saving some for garnish. Add more of the pasta water, if needed, to make the sauce creamy. Taste and adjust seasonings with more salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and nutmeg.

Divide among four bowls. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon ricotta, if desired. Add additional grated cheese and the rest of the pancetta.


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