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Farfalle with Fontina, Prosciutto and Crispy Leeks

Mary Anne here. Last summer was one for the record books – and not in a good way. During June alone, it rained 26 out of the 30 days – I signed up for New York, not Seattle. Given the lack of sunshine, I found myself constantly craving comfort food, something to take the edge off the soggy, disappointing season…

I was inspired by a similar pasta offering at a small neighborhood bistro. In the name of heart-health, I lightened the Bechamel sauce by using 1% milk and much to my weather-beaten delight, it was as creamy as ever. I also wanted to create a tomato salad to pair with the pasta, which can be found here.

Note: Basic white sauce or “Bechamel” is actually called a Mornay sauce when cheese is added. There is a resurgence in interest in crepes, and this is the sauce that makes a terrific start to filling those tasty pancakes. It is also the base for any au gratin potato or vegetable recipe – truly a versatile creation and oh-so-delicious!

Oh, and Mariel wanted me to let you know that Thai Lettuce Wraps are on the menu for next week…She’s had a couple duds in the kitchen so she has been waiting to post until she found something Feast-worthy.

Farfalle with Fontina, Prosciutto and Crispy Leeks
Serves 6

Ingredients for the Mornay sauce:
3 Tablespoons sweet butter – stock
4 Tablespoons flour – stock
2 cups 1% milk, HOT – stock
Dash of nutmeg – stock
Salt and white pepper, to taste – stock
½ cup grated Fontina cheese – $2.99

Ingredients for the Pasta:
1 lb. Farfalle – $1.67
1/3 lb. Piccolo Prosciutto, sliced thicker than is customary and then diced – $4.74
½ Tablespoon olive oil – stock
1 leek  – $1.33
NOTE: Use the white part of the leek and the tender base of the green section. Trim the end of the vegetable and then run a knife along the length to split. Under cold running water, thoroughly clean the leek of all sand and grit and then chop into the finest julienne you can muster; 3-inch “stringy” strips. Place in a colander and run cold water over the leeks to rinse any errant bits of sand.
Grand total Assuming Well-Stocked Pantry: $10.73
Total Per Serving: $1.79

Directions for the Mornay Sauce:
1. Over a medium flame, melt the butter in a heavy 2-quart saucepan. Add the flour, stirring until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. (This cooks the flour). It should not turn brown but will be a pale yellow.

2. Remove from heat and stir the mixture for a couple of seconds just until the bubbling subsides. Pour in the HOT milk all at once, whisking very vigorously. Turn flame back on to medium and continue cooking and whisking until the sauce begins to lightly simmer. Continue stirring at a simmer for about 2 minutes or so until the sauce is thickened and coats the back of a spoon.

3. Remove from the heat and stir in the grated Fontina, combining thoroughly. Add the salt, white pepper, and a (generous) dash of Nutmeg.

Tip: I like to prepare the sauce ahead of time and it will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge. To prevent a skin from forming over the top, simply press a piece of plastic wrap right down onto the surface. Reheat carefully either over a very low flame or over a double boiler, stirring frequently.

An additional tip: If the cheese becomes stringy when you add it to the hot Mornay, I once read in a James Beard cookbook that a drop or two of lemon juice whisked into the sauce will cure any stringiness. I did not have a problem with the Fontina, but sometimes the Swiss varieties can be problematic.

Directions for the Pasta:
1. Toss the leeks strips with a ½ Tablespoon of olive oil. Sauté over medium flame, stirring frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes until the green begins to fade and the white becomes the palest of gold. Remove from pan and set aside.

2. In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Dice the Prosciutto and set aside. Reheat the Mornay sauce over very low heat or in the top of a double boiler.

3. When the pasta water comes to a boil, cook the Farfalle until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain in a large colander and return the pasta to the large pot. Toss in the prosciutto and Mornay sauce, combining thoroughly.

4. Transfer the pasta into individual serving dishes and top with grated Fontina. Divide the sautéed leeks evenly between the dishes placing the veggie in the center of the pasta.

5. Run the dishes under the broiler for a minute or two, about 3 to 4 inches from the flame to melt the added cheese and “crisp” the leeks.