Penne with Pancetta, Mushrooms and Bechamel (#PastaFriday)


I think the day has finally come. The day when I can dare to say that the air is crisp and fresh and autumn is here. Can this be true? I don’t know about you but to me this kind of weather makes me want to eat mushrooms. And pancetta. And pasta. Thank goodness these three stars go so well together. All they need is some kind of sauce. Now I’ve got a little confession to make. When I’m in a hurry I make a simple tomato one with a few other ingredients thrown here and there, but I’m not a huge fan. I will eat it because I like it. That’s all. What I really really like is a good cream sauce. Alas, that’s not the healthiest thing on Earth (what a huge disappointment) so instead, that is when I have the time I make bechamel.

Bechamel is easy to make, believe me. If I can do it, then you can too. I usually learn cooking processes from books and reliable sites on the web, but I saw J make this years ago and it has remained my go-to method since. I use semi-skimmed milk here because that’s what I usually have in my fridge and I find it works just as well as full fat. Don’t go overboard with the nutmeg. A little pinch goes a long way. This is comfort food at its best. Keep me posted. Serves 2 generously.

  • 250g penne rigate
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons regular olive oil
  • 1 large onion roughly chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 150g pancetta, chopped
  • pepper
  • around 6 large chestnut mushrooms, washed and sliced
  • glug of dry white vermouth or white wine

For the bechamel sauce:

  • 25g butter
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons plain flour
  • 1 litre semi-skimmed milk
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Boil a pot of water and cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.

In a large shallow pan, pour the olive oil and sweat the chopped onion, garlic and mixed spice on low to medium heat. When the onion is softened, add the pancetta and the pepper. Give everything a stir and after a couple of minutes add the sliced mushrooms with the dry vermouth or wine. Whatever you have on hand. You can also add some of the pasta water, as the Italians do. Let the alcohol evaporate, switch off the heat and set aside.

For the bechamel sauce, take a heavy-based saucepan and make a roux. All you need to do is melt the butter in the pan on low heat, add 3 tablespoons of the flour and stir vigorously until you get a golden coloured paste. This will take around 6 minutes. If you see that the butter and flour mixture is very liquidy, add another tablespoon of flour. As you start whisking, add the milk a little at a time. Whisk until you see that you don’t have any lumps. I would also suggest you scrape the bottom and sides of the pan once in a while to make sure that all the butter and flour mixture is being incorporated with the liquid. Whisk in all the milk until you have a velvety sauce. Add a pinch of nutmeg and some salt and pepper, to taste.

Drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the pancetta and mushroom mixture. Give it a good mix and add as much of the bechamel sauce as the pasta can hold without being soggy. Mix and serve immediately into two pasta bowls.

You could sprinkle a little parsley onto each serving but this is totally optional.



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