One of the (many!) enjoyable things about living in San Francisco is the easy access to a great variety of cheese. I don’t mean the stuff near the deli at the supermarket, though that’s fine in a pinch. I mean the lovely varieties of artisan cheeses that are available here. One of my favourite ones is Cowgirl Creamery’s Pepato, a wonderful peppery sheep’s milk cheese which is mmmyummmmy all by itself. I can wax lyrical for volumes just about this cheese, but that would mean digressing, so…. putting dream cheese away in fantasy fridge to focus back on the topic at hand.
I like to shop for food like some women like to shop for shoes. I can spend hours wandering around food, gawking at all the wares. I think dogs who stare dolefully at dining tables must be more subtle than I am. Fanatical about hygiene though I may be, I have no problem shmushing my face into cheese counters and such to get a better look at what’s inside. The more expensive the store, the longer I will linger, since the thrifty part of me will engage in long arguments with the part that wants to buy half the store. The compromise is Greedy Guts get an eyeful of everything she’s not going to have. If you see someone with vacant eyes, staring supposedly aimlessly at the counter while you try to get at the clotted cream around her, forgive me for being in your way, but now you know why.
Sometimes though, the staring brings with it inspiration. On a particularly late night grocery shopping trip, where my thoughts were also on the night’s dinner, I sampled a wonderful gorgonzola. It has been ages since I ate some and wondered if I could put it into a salad. But the cold night demanded something warm and so gorgonzola pasta was born.
This pasta is wonderfully warm on a cold night. The star here is the cheese so make sure you use a variety you like. It is a sort of adult mac-n-cheese. I’m sure it would have been even better with a couple of minutes under a whacking hot broiler, but we were ravenous. The walnuts added a wonderful counter-texture and taste, their warm, nutty flavour melding with the cheese. But then I love the addition of nuts to starchy dishes. I claim no patents for inventing this. I googled Gorgonzola sauce the next day and got tons of hits. Practically everything has been done before by greater minds than mine. On a cold and wet night, after a long day, it was comforting and soothing dish to enjoy.
Whole wheat pasta with walnuts and gorgonzola sauce.
Whole-wheat Penne (or your favourite sturdy shaped pasta) – Half a box
Walnuts – a large handful, chopped and briefly toasted
Gorgonzola cheese – 1 cup, crumbled into smaller pieces
Half-and-half – 1 cup
White wine or Champagne Vinegar – a glug or so of the bottle
Honey – 1 tsp
Butter – 1 tsp
Garlic – 3 cloves, finely minced
All-Purpose flour – 1 tsp
Salt to taste, if required
Good grinding of black pepper
Basil – torn into pieces, 1 giant handful a person.
Parmesan for topping
– Boil the pasta as directed with a liberal seasoning of salt added to the boiling water.
– Toast the walnuts for a couple of minutes and put aside.
– Melt the butter in a saucepan and saute the garlic.
– Add the flour to start a basic roux.
– When lightly browned, slowly add in the half-and-half and stir in to incorporate into a thickish sauce.
– Melt the gorgonzola cheese into this sauce, all the while whisking briskly. When everything comes together into a velvety fluid mixture, add the white wine and whisk further, finishing with the honey. Stir to incorporate into a cohesive sauce, using some pasta water to thin it out if necessary.
– Drain the boiled pasta and add to the prepared sauce. Mix thoroughly until all of the pasta is cloaked with the sauce.
– Add the toasted walnuts and ladle portions into serving dish.
– Season with pepper, top lavishly with the basil and serve.
The basil here is not a garnish, but an integral part of the dish (though the photo was taken before I made that decision). The flavour contrasted against that of the sharp sauce but came together into a wonderfully complementary dish. The honey adds a sweetish note. I used orange flower honey here and touch of a Riesling that I had already open. A dry wine would also probably work but it might need to be balanced further. This was a dish that’s perfect for a quick weekend supper on colder days.