Farmers’ pasta is our family’s Christmas Eve tradition. Break it out whenever you need a make-ahead vegetarian meal to please a crowd.
Me and cheese. It’s complicated. Like a celebrity couple, we have two relationships. There’s the “us” in the public eye: A small amount of high-quality cheese once or twice a week curbs cravings and contributes to an optimal lipid profile. This isn’t a sham, exactly. Much of the time cheese and I do live this way. It’s just that it’s not the whole story.
There’s also the “us” that the tabloids would kill to get a shot of. Midnight. A big hunk of milky fresh mozzarella popped in the microwave for 20 to 30 seconds until it’s warmed through and just starting to melt. A drizzle of really good olive oil. A sprinkle of sea salt. A spoon. It’s almost indecent. We — cheese and I — wouldn’t have it any other way.
In the lasciviousness department, you’ll also find Farmers’ Pasta. This recipe is adapted from Giada de Laurentiis, and it’s the kind of Giada recipe that makes my grandmother blurt out things like, “Look at her! You’ll notice she only TASTES her food! One bite!” Touché, Grandma. There’s more than a pound of cheese in this recipe, not that anyone’s counting. Farmers’ Pasta isn’t the time and place for counting ounces of cheese or quibbling about their artisanal credentials.
No. Farmers’ Pasta is the time and place for throwing a big, jolly party or creating a Christmas Eve dinner tradition. In London, it turns out, it’s also the time for drawing on your old SAT prep and making cheese analogies, since no specific cheese you look for to cook an American recipe will ever be available when you want it. EDAM : MILD FONTINA :: MANCHEGO : PROVOLONE. It’s never too late to amortize those hours spent studying for the SAT. Keep that in mind, people. (Also? Speaking of SATs, read this and prepare to laugh.)
Farmers’ Pasta in one form or another has been in our family now since 2005. And since something tells me I am not the only one among us who has a complicated relationship with cheese, I thought it was high time to share this recipe — even if its place in the canon of plant-based, whole-foods recipes is questionable at best. I never pretended to be anything more than a ninety percenter, anyway. Grab a spoon, cheese lovers. We’ll have plenty of time for kale and quinoa tomorrow.
Talk to you soon.
Farmers' Pasta: Vegetarian Baked Pasta to Feed a Crowd
This special-occasion recipe (our family's traditional Christmas Eve dinner with a big green salad), is adapted from Giada de Laurentiis. You can prepare the dish all the way through pouring it into the baking pan and topping with the cheeses, then cool it to room temperature, refrigerate it tightly covered, and bake up to 24 hours later. Leave out for an hour to bring back to room temperature before baking, or add up to 10 minutes more baking time to compensate.
- 1 pound penne rigate
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 7 cups whole milk
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced and divided
- 8 ounces mild fontina or edam cheese, shredded
- 6 ounces provolone or manchego cheese, shredded
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the penne and cook until just shy of al dente, about 7 minutes if the package says 11. Drain.
Meanwhile, in heavy 5-quart pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook for just a moment, until aromatic.
Add the flour all at once and cook, whisking frequently, for 90 seconds. Add the milk, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. When the milk boils, immediately lower the heat to medium-low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.
Off the heat, add half the mozzarella, the fontal, the manchego, and half the Parmigiano. Stir until cheese is melted. Stir in the the basil, parsley, and nutmeg. Season generously to taste with salt and pepper, then stir in the pasta.
Preheat oven to 375° F/190° C with a rack in the center. Pour mixture into a deep 9x13-inch baking dish or large braiser. Top with remaining mozzarella and Parmigiano. Bake until lightly browned and bubbly, about 20 minutes.