This recipe for a hearty cheese pasta comes to us from our seasonal cheesemonger Neil, who has returned year after year to sell cheese with our Covent Garden team at Christmas. He strategically chooses his Christmas cheeses to include excellent melters, perfect for creamy pasta dishes such as this and for lazy days of cheese toasties and cups of tea. Designed for leftovers, take this recipe as a template, using whatever cheese you have on hand. Prefer a saucier pasta? Don’t bake it at the end, simply scatter the fried breadcrumbs on top and dig in.
A cheesemonger’s baked cheese pasta
500g dried pasta
2 leeks, sliced
4 rashers of bacon, chopped
50g plain flour
1 litre of whole milk
2 bay leaves
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
A few sprigs of thyme, chopped
Sweat the sliced leeks with the chopped bacon until soft. Set aside.
Cook pasta for a minute or so less than package directions, you want it al dente as it will continue cooking in the sauce later. Set aside.
Make a bechamel sauce (about a litre) by melting the butter in a pot over medium heat, adding the flour and stirring constantly for a couple of minutes until it starts to smell toasty. Add milk little by little, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Add bay leaves and continue cooking mixture, stirring occasionally, until it thickens. Add grated mixture of cheese to sauce and stir through until melted. Taste and add more cheese and seasonings as needed, the sauce should have a good cheesy kick to it.
Add in leeks and bacon mixture and stir well, then add in cooked pasta and stir to coat thoroughly. Pour into a lightly buttered baking dish.
Mix together sourdough breadcrumbs, minced garlic, and chopped thyme, and pan fry briefly in a bit of olive oil and butter. Scatter this mixture on top of the pasta.
Bake for about 15-20 min in the preheated oven until the top is browned and the sauce is bubbling gently at the sides.