Mushrooms are a funny thing. My kids ate them voraciously as toddlers, then decided they couldn’t stand them. Only my youngest still indulges… but they have to be raw. I set out to create a dish that would help the kids enjoy these tasty little fungi. I decided I’d bring pasta into my corner- they’ll put up with a lot adult flavors if pasta is involved! Add a creamy, silky bechamel sauce and some smoked cheese for depth of flavor, and this a winning dish for kids, and adults, alike. This multi-step dish, can be prepared a few hours ahead and stored in the fridge until ready to bake, making it a great weekend dinner party entree.
Baked Leek and Mushroom Pasta in a Smoky Bechamel
- 10 ounces mixed mushrooms such as portobello, cremini, maitake, or oyster, roughly chopped
- ½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- 2 medium leeks white and light green parts only, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 ½ cups whole milk
- ¼ cup flour
- ½ stick butter 4 tablespoons
- 3 cloves garlic chopped
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 6 ounces smoked cheese such as cheddar, shredded on a box grater
- 2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt divided
- freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 pound short pasta such as rigatoni or cavatelli
- In a large skillet, warm the olive oil. Add the leeks and saute for a few minutes until softened. Stir in the mushrooms and a half teaspoon salt and cook over medium heat until the mushrooms are cooked through, another 10-15 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed and some black pepper.
- Meanwhile, pour a cup of boiling hot water over the porcini mushrooms and let them rehydrate for 10-15 minutes. Pull from the liquid, coarsely chop, and pour ½ cup of the soaking liquid in with the milk leaving any sediment on the bottom of the bowl from the mushrooms. Put the porcini in with the leeks and mushrooms, take off the heat and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat and add the garlic. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes. Slowly pour in the milk mixture and switch to a whisk. Whisk over medium heat until it comes to a simmer. Simmer, without stirring, over low heat for 2 minutes, then take off the heat and stir in the cheese, nutmeg and 1 teaspoon of salt. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
- Cook the pasta according to package directions in plenty of salted water, until al dente (since the pasta will cook more in the oven, boil it shy of 2 minutes according to when it will be finished). Drain and dump back into the pasta pot, not over the heat.
- Pour the bechamel in with the pasta and stir to coat. Add the mushrooms and combine. Pour into a buttered 9 x 13 inch baking dish. You can refrigerate it at this point up to 8 hours before baking.
- In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, parsley and ¼ teaspoon salt. Scatter over the pasta evenly. Place dish in a preheated 325 degree oven. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until top is toasted and it is warm throughout. Serve immediately.