Paccheri con Finocchio, Spinaci, Pomodorini e Bavaria Blu al Forno
Oven-Baked Paccheri with Fennel, Spinach, Cherry Tomatoes and Bavaria Blue Cheese
This evening I finally finished off my little hunk of Bavaria blue cheese... it has a good companion to me this week! It is a little milder than a Gorgonzola or Roquefort, but makes for a flavorful, smooth and creamy addition to many a dish... including this one!
Blue cheese and spinach- a classic I would say, blue cheese and fennel too... but the combination of fennel and spinach was a new one to me, although I have read any number of recipes combining them in classic Italian cuisine. And so, being as I had left-over spinach, fennel and cheese, it was almost inevitable that this kind of thing would happen! But who knew that it would taste so good?
The pasta I used is basically a gigantic form of macaroni, known as "Paccheri". They can be filled in the same way as canneloni or used in any number of other ways- including an oven-baked preparation like this one.
I put the paccheri on to boil in plenty of salty water in the usual way. Whilst they were cooking, I sautéed the fennel, which I cut into manageable slices, in a little olive oil, with a sprinkle of caraway seeds and a little crushed garlic. After about 5 minutes, I drained the pasta and added it to the fennel, along with a good splash of milk and a generous grating of nutmeg. I added the fresh spinach leaves and a finely chopped Spring onion and let them cook for another couple of minutes.
Next, I added the halved cherry tomatoes and a generous pinch of cracked pepper corns. By now the milk had been absorbed and I was a little concerned that the paccheri could dry out a little too much... so I added a nice splash of Sambuca ;-) If you are cooking for children, of course, you can skip that last step and simply add a little more milk.
I layered up the pasta, spinach, tomatoes, fennel and onion evenly and added little blobs of blue cheese, evenly distributed all over. One last dusting of nutmeg and pepper and then off it went into the oven! And around 20 minutes later at a moderate heat, this little star was born! 1- 2 minutes under the broiler will give it a nice golden brown glow and then you will be able delight in this delicious meat-free meal... but be careful- it will be very, very hot, because you won't be able to wait for it to cool down!