Thursday, March 1, 2012

Creamy Tuscan White Bean Pasta

This amazing pasta dish requires quite a few ingredients I do not consider "staples", and it was probably one of our more expensive dinners, but for a treat and something out of the ordinary, it was WAY worth it! I absolutely love the combinations of all the vegetables with the creamy sauce and pasta, complimented by delicious white beans. As far as I can remember, I have never had beans in pasta before- it was awesome! I used whole wheat shells, and the beans sort of hid inside the shells, giving the pasta a new, rich flavor and texture. Mmm, mmm!

The first step of this delicious meal from "How Sweet It Is" is to roast a red pepper- something I had never done before! It was super easy and provided fantastic results! The roasted pepper lent an incredibly smokiness to the whole dish. It's so simple, you don't even need a recipe. Just preheat the broiler of your oven, slice the pepper and lay skin side down on a baking sheet. Broil about 10 min. or until the pepper skins start to get good and blackened. Immediately remove peppers from the sheet with tongs and put into a Ziploc bag. Seal and let them "steam" for 20-30 min. Peel the skins off if they're really charred. It really is that easy!! Can I get a "YUM!"? Now that I know this amazing trick to roasting my own red peppers, I will definitely be looking for recipes including them. I bet they would be awesome on pizza...

The other amazing vegetables included in this dish account for the "Tuscan" title: spinach, sun dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. What a winning combination!

And the only thing that can make all this even better? If you said bacon, you are absolutely correct (really, could there be another answer to that question?)! Pancetta, also known as Italian bacon, adds a delightful, smoky flavor to the pasta, especially since the onions are cooked in the grease...

And the glue that holds it all together...a creamy, light Parmesan white sauce. What a perfect compliment to an outstanding meal.

Creamy Tuscan White Bean Pasta
adapted from How Sweet It Is
serves 4

2 cups whole wheat shells or other pasta
1/4 cup chopped pancetta
1/2 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups fresh spinach
1 roasted red pepper, chopped
1/4 cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes
5-6 artichoke hearts, chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1 can white beans (I used Great Northern)
2 tsp dried basil
1 TB butter
1 TB flour
1 (15 oz) can skim evaporated milk
1/2 cup low-fat milk
3 TB Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Boil water and prepare pasta according to package directions.
Heat large skillet over med-high heat. Add pancetta and cook until crispy and fat is rendered; remove and drain on a paper towel. Reduce heat to med-low and add onion, stirring to coat. Cook 3-5 min or until softened. Add garlic and spinach and stir until spinach is wilted. Add in peppers, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, beans, and basil, stirring to mix. If pasta is done, add it as well. Reduce heat to low and stir every few minutes while you make the sauce.
Heat a small saucepan over low heat and add butter. Once sizzling, whisk in flour and cook until golden and fragrant. Add in milks, allow to come to full boil while stirring continuously. Reduce to simmer and stir another 5 to 7 min until it thickens a bit. Reduce to low and add Parmesan cheese. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Pour cream sauce into skillet with vegetables, pasta and beans, then add in bacon. Stir to mix, then transfer to a large serving dish. Enjoy!

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