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Creamy Baked Four-Cheese Pasta

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  • Creamy Baked Four-Cheese Pasta

    Creamy Baked Four-Cheese Pasta
    by Sally Sampson @ Cooks Illustrated

    Serves 4 to 6 as main course, 6 to 8 as side dish


    ~ Bread Crumb Topping~
    3 or 4 slices white sandwich bread with crusts, torn into quarters
    1/4 cup (1/2 ounce) grated Parmesan cheese
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/8-teaspoon ground black pepper

    ~Pasta and Cheese~
    4 ounces Italian Fontina cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
    3 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
    1/2 cup (1 ounce) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
    1/4 cup (1/2 ounce) grated Parmesan cheese
    1 pound penne
    1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon salt
    2 teaspoons unsalted butter
    2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
    1-1/2 cups heavy cream
    1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

    For the topping: Pulse bread in food processor until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about ten 1-second pulses (you should have about 11/2 cups). Transfer to small bowl; stir in Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Set mixture aside.

    For the pasta: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees.

    Bring 4-quarts water to rolling boil in stockpot. Combine cheeses in large bowl; set aside. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt to boiling water; stir to separate pasta. While pasta is cooking, melt butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat; whisk flour into butter until no lumps remain, about 30 seconds. Gradually whisk in cream, increase heat to medium, and bring to boil, stirring occasionally; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 1 minute to ensure that flour cooks. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper; cover cream mixture to keep hot and set aside. When pasta is very al dente (when bitten into, pasta should be opaque and slightly underdone at very center), drain about 5 seconds, leaving pasta slightly wet. Add pasta to bowl with cheeses; immediately pour cream mixture over, then cover bowl with foil or large plate and let stand 3 minutes. Uncover bowl and stir with rubber spatula, scraping bottom of bowl, until cheeses are melted and mixture is thoroughly combined.

    Transfer pasta to a baking dish, then sprinkle evenly with reserved bread crumbs, pressing down lightly. Bake until topping is golden brown, about 7 minutes. Serve immediately.

    ~2 VARIATIONS~

    *Baked Four-Cheese Pasta with Tomatoes and Basil

    Follow recipe for Creamy Baked Four-Cheese Pasta, adding one 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained, to pasta along with cream mixture and stirring in -cup coarsely chopped basil leaves just before transferring pasta to baking dish.

    *Baked Four-Cheese Pasta with Prosciutto and Peas

    Follow recipe for Creamy Baked Four-Cheese Pasta, omitting salt from cream mixture and adding 4-ounces prosciutto, chopped, and 1 cup frozen peas to pasta along with cream mixture.
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