Italians know how to live, and certainly how to make a version of mac and cheese that will drive you to the fridge, fork in hand, in the middle of the night. Pancetta, the Italian version of bacon, and wild mushrooms are sautéed and added to a creamy, Fontina, Mozzarella, Asiago and Parmesan sauce, which is tossed with hot pasta and baked until golden and bubbly. This Baked Penne with Wild Mushrooms and Pancetta truly has it all.
It’s that easy: Many domestic brands of dried pasta become too mushy in the boiling and baking process. For that reason, I like to use imported Italian pasta which is sturdier with a nice al dente bite when cooked.
Quattro Formaggio Baked Penne with Wild Mushrooms and Pancetta
Hands-on time: 35 minutes
Start-to-Finish: 1 hour, 10 minutes
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 4-oz pancetta or bacon, chopped
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 1-lb assorted wild mushrooms such as crimini, oyster, shiitake, oyster
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 cup whipping cream
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 cups coarsely grated Fontina
- 1 cup coarsely grated mozzarella
- 1/2 cup grated Asiago
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1 -lb dried penne pasta
- Preheat oven to 400°F (200ºC) with rack in middle.
- Bring 6 quarts of water in a large pot to a boil.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the pancetta, with 2 tablespoons of butter until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the shallot and mushrooms to the skillet and cook until brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer the mushroom mixture to a large bowl.
- Meanwhile, melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter in the pan over medium heat and stir in flour. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes, then whisk in milk, cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Bring sauce to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Stir in the Fontina, mozzarella and half of the Parmesan, a handful at a time, whisking until smooth with each addition. Do not bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the mushrooms.
- Add 2 tablespoons of salt to the boiling water. Stir in the penne and cook until almost al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain the pasta in a colander and stir into the cheese sauce and pancetta/mushroom mixture. Transfer to a buttered 3-quart (3 L) shallow baking dish, sprinkle the remaining Parmesan evenly over the pasta and bake until golden and bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
- Make-ahead: Assemble the pasta up to 24 hours ahead and keep refrigerated. Add about 20 minutes to the baking time if baking directly from the fridge.