Pasta al Forno with an East Tennessee Twist: Bow Tie Pasta with Peas, Ham, and Mushrooms

Doc and I went to Italy a few years ago. It was lucky for us that we went on a bus tour because we never got the hang of the train system. The last night of our trip we traveled by train from the airport to Rome. It was about a 1 hour train ride. We had a romantic dinner in Rome and were headed back when we got lost and couldn’t find the transfer station to the train line that went to the airport. It didn’t help that the stations had different names depending on what direction you were going! We kept doing the “loop-de-loo” until the trains closed for the evening! Now we were in a pickle because we had spent almost all of our euros. We scraped every bit of money we had together and had just enough to take a taxi back to Rome where we could find an ATM, secure money then get a taxi to the airport. 

This would have been an easy fix if the Italian National Parade was not going on at the same time we were trying to exit, Rome. The parade had at least 2 hours of tanks, horses and military brigades and had started parading down the streets of Rome at midnight.  It took an hour to find a taxi, an hour to wait for the parade to pass, and 2 hours to get to the airport hotel. At 4 am we just had 2 hours left to sleep, get dressed, and get to the airport. Oh, and did I fail to mention that our luggage never made it from Sorrento to Rome? We redressed in sweat filled clothes from the day before. I now NEVER travel without a change of clothes and makeup in my carry on. Why? When we arrived in Charlotte, the security guard took one look at me and didn’t think I looked like my passport picture! He kept looking at my picture then looking at me. I finally said, “This is what I look like with out makeup and he laughed!” 

This recipe is from our final evening in Rome before our crazy adventure began! It has a béchamel (white sauce) and is a rich dish that pairs well with red meat. Normally this dish is made with pancetta, but being from East Tennessee, I just use ham!

Pasta Al Forno with an East Tennessee Twist: Bow Tie Pasta with Peas, Ham and Mushrooms

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 shallots, tiny dice
4 ounces cubed ham, I use John Morrell mini cubed ham
8 ounces sliced button mushrooms
8 ounces sliced baby Bella’s (baby Portabellas)
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
8 ounces frozen peas
12 ounces (3/4 pound) bow tie pasta
1 cup reserved Pasta water

White Bechamel Sauce

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon iodized salt
2 cups whole milk (or 1 cup 2% milk and 1 cup half and half)
1 cup grated (not the powder kind) Parmesan cheese

Panko Topping
1 cup panko
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Spray a 9 X 13-inch glass baking dish with non-stick spray. In a large frying pan heat 1 tablespoon  olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots and sauté 4 minutes; add ham and cook 1 minute. Remove from pan and set aside. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and mushrooms to skillet and sauté until mushrooms release their juices and continue cooking until all the juices evaporate; about 8 to 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper, ham, shallots and peas. Cook 2 minutes; remove from heat and set aside. Cook pasta according to package directions subtracting 2 minutes from the cooking time. Do not drain until you are ready to assemble the dish. 

While pasta is cooking, make white sauce. In a medium saucepan, over low heat melt butter then stir in flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir constantly with a wire whisk for about 2 minutes or until the roux just begins to brown. Increase heat to medium. Add milk and continue to stir as the milk heats up and the sauce thickens. This will take about 10 minutes. Mix in 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup pasta water. Add peas, ham, mushroom mixture, pasta and 1/2 cup pasta water to sauce. Pour into prepared baking dish. If it seems too thick add more pasta water. (Reserve remaining pasta water for reheating leftovers) Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Mix panko and melted butter. Heat in skillet over medium heat until panko turns light brown. Bake 10 to 15 minutes.  Makes 8-10 servings.

Published in The News and Neighbor on July 6, 2022.

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