Thursday, 29 October 2009

The 21st Century Housewife's© Pasta with Pancetta, Cauliflower and Cheddar Sauce

I’ve been making a version of this recipe for years, but the other day it evolved into the best one yet. I decided to make it healthier by using whole wheat penne, and the bonus was that this actually added a lot of flavour and body to the dish. I also used Italian pancetta instead of the chopped bacon I have always used to use before. You can buy packages of ready-cubed pancetta in most grocery stores now. I’ve used lots of different cheeses in my recipe in the past, but this time I decided to go for the unashamedly strong flavour of mature cheddar in the cheese sauce. It was the perfect foil for the whole wheat pasta.

Do please read the whole recipe before you start as it requires several pans and quite a bit of multi-tasking. Once you have made it the first time though, you will find a pattern of doing things that makes it very easy. For example, after I have drained the cauliflower and set it aside, I give the pan I cooked it in a quick rinse, dry it and use it to make the cheese sauce. (Anything to save on the dishes!) This dish is so delicious though it is worth the little bit of extra trouble it takes to make.

My recipe will serve three to four.

1 medium cauliflower, washed and broken or chopped into florets
250 grams whole wheat penne
4 ounces Italian pancetta, cubed
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
approximately 300 ml milk
2 generous teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 generous handful of grated mature cheddar cheese

Cook the cauliflower in boiling water until just tender. I always add a teaspoon of sugar to the cooking water, as I like how it makes the cauliflower taste, but this is purely optional! Drain and set aside.

Cook the penne in boiling salted water according to package directions.

Meanwhile, start making the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the flour and stir in with a whisk. Cook for a couple of minutes just to take the “raw” taste away from the flour. Stir occasionally and don’t leave the pan unattended. Now whisk in a tiny bit of milk. When the sauce begins to thicken, turn the heat up to medium and add the rest of the milk gradually, stirring constantly. (You may not need it all.) You want the sauce to stay fairly thick so don’t get carried away – you can always add more milk, but you can’t take it away once you’ve added it! Whisk in the mustard, and then stir in the cheese. Turn the heat back to low and allow the cheese to melt, stirring occasionally.

Now this is the tricky bit because you are doing two things at once (actually three if you count the pasta, although it does tend to look after itself). While you are making the cheese sauce and the pasta is cooking, cook the pancetta in a small frying pan over high heat until nice and crispy. Drain.

The pasta should be done by now, so drain it and return it to the saucepan. Add the drained cauliflower, the cheese sauce and the pancetta. Stir gently so everything gets coated in the yummy cheese sauce. Keep the saucepan over a very low heat just to ensure everything gets and stays piping hot, but don’t allow the mixture to burn.

Serve directly from the pan with hot crusty bread and / or a crisp green salad.