I’ve invented a lot of recipes in my day. Thousands. A portion of those were for restaurant consulting projects around the world — including hotels and supermarket chains. The others were for the hundreds of articles and twelve books that I’ve published since 1993. I was the first to create olive oil ice cream, pesto-pistachio salmon, had the first watermelon-feta salad published in the New York Times, became famous for cooking short ribs in a concoction of prune juice and teriyaki sauce, and for frying capers in olive oil to pour over roasted asparagus. There are too, too many to mention here: Some have become signatures and others have been hijacked. No matter. But this month’s article published in Bon Appetit –that featured my five baked pastas — has received more attention than most. Permission was just given to publish the story in an upcoming issue of South Africa’s House & Garden, and I was just asked to be on Martha Stewart’s radio show to talk about baked pastas using seasonal ingredients.
Several blog readers have also made requests: one in particular was keen to try my Tortellini Gratinati with Gorgonzola, Rosemary & Parsnip Bechamel. For some reason, the title was changed in the magazine to Tortellini Gratinati with Mushrooms and Parsnip “Bechamel. ” For me, some of the romance and appeal of the dish had to do with the flavor profile of the gorgonzola and rosemary. No matter. The most exciting component of the dish is my parsnip “bechamel.” I was thrilled that this nascent idea came to life and was so delicious. This original spin, based on the classic French bechamel sauce, is as creamy and rich as the authentic recipe (ever more so!) but is fashioned from boiled parsnips which give a luxurious mouthfeel, a bit of sweetness, and lots of good nutrition. The parsnip puree takes the place of the traditional butter and flour used in making bechamel. It has already become a “new favorite” in my repertoire. This “bechamel” can be used as a warm cushion for roast chicken, poured over roasted eggplant and mushrooms for a great vegetarian main course, or used as a filling for a big baked potato strewn with bits of crispy bacon. Loosened up with a bit more milk or chicken stock, it becomes a wondrous soup.
Tortellini Gratinati with Gorgonzola, Rosemary & Parsnip “Bechamel”
The recipe can be made in quick stages then put together right before baking. I use a combination of large and small cheese-filled fresh tortellini from the supermarket. Small ravioli or fresh cavatelli may be substituted.
2 large parsnips, about 12 ounces
2 cups milk
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup freshly-grated parmigiano reggiano
3-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, in small pieces
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
12 ounces baby portabellos, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons finely minced fresh rosemary
1-1/2 pounds fresh cheese-filled tortellini or tortelloni, or a mixture
6 ounces imported gorgonzola dolce, in small pieces
Peel parsnips. Cut into 1 inch pieces. Place in small saucepan with salted water to cover by several inches. Bring to a boil and boil 20 to 25 minutes until very soft. Drain well. Put in food processor with 1 cup milk and heavy cream and process until smooth. With motor running, slowly add remaining milk. Add ¾ cup parmesan, ½ to 1 teaspoon salt (depending on cheese) and pepper. Process until very smooth. Return to saucepan. Cook 5 minutes over low heat or until reduced to 3 cups.
Melt 2-1/2 tablespoons butter in large skillet. Add garlic, mushrooms and rosemary. Cook 6 to 7 minutes, stirring, over medium-high heat until soft. Add salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add tortellini and cook until just tender, about 9 minutes. Drain well and toss with remaining tablespoon butter. place in a 10-cup overproof soufflé dish or casserole. Scatter mushrooms over pasta. Pour béchamel over pasta to cover completely. Dot with gorgonzola and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup parmesan. Bake 18 minutes until bubbly, then broil 2 minutes until golden brown. Serves 6