Friday, October 12, 2012

Pasta with Béchamel and Peas

Fancy name, eh? My daughter hangs out with Grandma, Grandpa, and her favorite cousin every week. One of their favorite dinners on "Grandma Days" is Grandpa's pasta with white sauce and peas. He keeps jars of Alfredo sauce on hand, just for this dish, and the kids eat it up!

Today was a really long day, and the kids were total troopers. (We hit up the aquarium after school. Coming home, I made a few wrong turns, and ended up stretching a 20 minute drive into nearly 90 minutes. Ouch.) I decided to make something I knew the kids would love, but it had to be QUICK. Quicker than frozen pizza. I already had some leftover (plain) pasta in the fridge, so this came together in about 5 minutes. Easy peasy! (Heh. See what I did there?)

(Oh, and about that name? My daughter asked me to please add this to our dinner I told her she had to learn the proper name if she wanted me to remember what I made. No doubt this isn't a real béchamel, but...whatevs. It's cute to see a 6 year old asking for béchamel!)

I learned the recipe for this white sauce from my father when I was about 12. He, in turn, learned it from his grandmother. It's fool-proof, and easily customizable. Add cream cheese and rock shrimp, and you have an incredible dip. More cheese, and it's a great mac and cheese. Less cheese, and it could be a simple topping for poached eggs. This can also be used in white lasagnas, or over vegetables. Oh, and a classic béchamel would also have nutmeg in it, just a pinch.

LoLo's Pasta with Béchamel and Peas
Serves 4-6

1 pound pasta (cooked, drained and set aside)
4 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup flour
approximately 2 cups milk (I use skim, but nearly anything will work. Even evaporated, from a can!)
1 cup shredded cheese
3 cups frozen peas
Salt, Pepper to Taste

In a sauce pan, combine your knob of butter and flour over medium low heat. Whisk it as the butter melts - you need it to be lump free. It should be runny enough to not just clump up in your whisk. Add more butter if necessary.

Let your butter and flour cook for about 1 minute, until it starts to get slightly golden brown, and slowly whisk in your milk. Just a bit at a time, then let it cook. You want the consistency to be like melted ice cream, or just a bit thicker. The flour thickens as it cooks, so make sure you take your time, and keep whisking!

When the sauce is the right consistency, whisk in your shredded cheddar cheese and stir until melted. Add your frozen peas, heat through, and taste. Depending on your cheese, you may or may not need the salt, pepper, nutmeg, etc. (This is where you can make the sauce your own - White pepper is nice here, because it won't put black flecks in your sauce. Cayenne pepper would surprise people, too!) Pour all of your sauce over your pasta and fold to combine.