Morel and Blue Cheese Pasta Gratin Recipe (Cheese Pasta Casserole)
Our vacation is coming to an end, and we head back home in the morning. For the ride back, I made a pasta gratin using radiatore pasta with fresh morels and a blue cheese white sauce. You know, just in case anyone gets hungry! I combined the ingredients in a casserole dish sprinkled with shredded Parmesan cheese and served the gratin casserole dish with tomato and greens.
I got many of the ingredients yesterday at the Rogue Valley Farmers' Market in Ashland, where I discovered a myriad of wonderful fresh products. I was particularly drawn to the white raspberries, Oregonian goat sausages and fresh morels. After purchasing the ingredients at the market, in the afternoon we visited the headquarters of Harry and David where I bought some delicious blue cheese that ended up in this dish. Southern Oregon has turned out to be absolutely delicious!
Yields: 8 servings1 (16-ounce) package radiatore pasta
1 yellow onion
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
1 teaspoon red chili flakes (optional)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
4-½ cups milk, warmed for 2 minutes in the microwave
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
2 ounces blue cheese, softened to room temperature
1-½ tablespoons olive oil
2 cups fresh morel mushrooms
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
For the radiatore pasta: Bring about 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add the pasta, bring back to a boil, then immediately lower the heat to a gentle boil. That way the pasta is cooked all the way through evenly. Cook the pasta for about 12 minutes total. Salt the water half-way through the cooking process (it will bring out the natural flavor of the pasta and the pasta will be more tender) and keep stirring every now and then so the pasta does not stick to the bottom. When the pasta is cooked (cooked inside and out but still in shape and firm), reserve about 1/3 cup to ½ cup of pasta water and drain the pasta (do NOT rinse) into a large colander. Season with a little salt.
For the white sauce:
In a saucepan, melt 8 tablespoons of butter over medium-low; you don't want the butter to burn. Add the red chili flakes (if used). Bring the heat back up to medium-high (the butter should be hot and golden) and add the flour. Keep stirring manually with a whisk for approximately 3 minutes. The flour should absorb the butter instantly and form a paste. Stir well until incorporated and add the milk in 3 stages. Increase the heat while constantly stirring for about 5 minutes. Add the blue cheese and reduce the heat to low. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Let the sauce rest until it's time to assemble the dish.
Cooking the morels:
Trim the ends. Delicately brush the mushrooms. In a bowl, dissolve the vinegar in water and rinse the morels 2-3 times. Pat dry on paper towels. Coarsely chop them. Set aside.
In a sauté pan, heat the oil. Add the onions and cook until they're slightly golden. Add the radiatore pasta and 1 tablespoon butter. Toss the pasta for about 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. If the pasta starts sticking to the bottom, add a little pasta water. Transfer to a large platter.
In the same pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the minced garlic and cook until golden. Add the morels. Cook for about 5 minutes. Season with black pepper. Add the white sauce and cook over low heat for 5 more minutes; the sauce will be infused with the unique flavor of the morel mushrooms.
Add the pasta back to the sauce. Check seasoning. Add more salt if necessary.
In a casserole dish greased with 1 tablespoon butter (for an easy clean up), add the creamy pasta and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Bake in the oven for 5 minutes at 400°F and broil for about 2-3 minutes to get a nice golden crust. Remove from the oven and let it rest for at least 15 minutes. Cut into squares.
You could replace the fresh morels with dried morels and re-hydrate them in lukewarm water.
If you want to prepare the dish in advance, place the creamy pasta in the baking dish but only bake 30 minutes before you're ready to serve. (If you store the pasta in the refrigerator before baking, make sure the pasta is warm; maybe bake for a longer time, 30-35 minutes).
If you like, you can sprinkle more finely grated parmesan right before serving.
I used a combination of blue cheese (Oregonzola) and Parmesan cheese. If you decided to go with milder cheeses, you might want to add more salt.
To make white sauce, I always use all the ingredients at the same temperature, so make sure to heat the milk in the microwave for about 2 minutes (or in a saucepan), so it's warm. If you get lumpy pieces in the sauce, don't hesitate to use a hand blender.
If you have white sauce left-over, don't discard it. Just store it for later and use it as a sauce for a croque-monsieur sandwich (ham and cheese sandwich).