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Pasta Shells with Ham, Peas and Mascarpone Sauce

Recipe: Pasta Shells with Ham, Peas and Mascarpone Sauce

Remarks:

    This easy-to-prepare dish works for a weeknight meal and is fancy enough for company.

Servings:
Serves 4 as entrée, 6 as a side dish.

Ingredients:

    2 pints grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, halved
    2 tsp chopped garlic (Jar garlic will do fine.)
    Salt and pepper
    Olive oil
    3/4 pound medium pasta shells
    2 cups mascarpone
    5 oz of three-cheese Italian blend, divided (If you can't find it parmesan, romano, asiago or any combination of the above will do.)
    1 cup cubed precooked ham (tiny cubes) or shredded prosciutto (You can cut your own ham cubes or they sell them already cut in some stores.)

    1 cup frozen peas
    1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
    1/2 cup shredded fresh basil

Instructions:

    Spray a 9- by 13-inch Pyrex (heatproof) pan with olive oil spray. Put in tomatoes. Toss with garlic, salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes until plumped and a bit bumpy.

    While the tomatoes are roasting, get your pasta water boiling to cook your pasta. When the water is at a full boil, put in your pasta. Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil in the water and cook the pasta according to your package directions. When the pasta is finished you are going to drain it, but!--keep a cup of the pasta water in a separate measuring cup. Put the pasta in a large pasta bowl, large enough you can toss the pasta.

    While the pasta is still very hot, add the mascarpone and begin stirring it into the noodles. The heat of the noodles should melt your mascarpone. If it needs a little help or if you want a little runnier sauce, add some of the pasta water. I usually add up to a half cup or so of the water. (You've kept out a cup of the hot pasta water just in case you want more.) Toss out any leftover water when your sauce is the consistency you like.

    Add your ham, peas, pepper flakes, half of the cheese blend and stir to combine.

    Now add all of this on top of the roasted tomatoes in your baking dish. You are going to bake the whole casserole. You can stir the tomatoes around a bit so some of them rise to the top.

    Sprinkle the rest of your cheese blend on top of the pasta combination and bake your pasta dish at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. You're heating everything up this way and the heat will cook the peas. You are also watching to see if the cheese makes a nice light crust on the top of the pasta. If you don't see light brown patches after the 20 minutes, turn on your broiler setting and broil the casserole for just a few minutes more. Keep an eye on it. All you are trying to do is get a few nice light brown spots on top of the pasta. The light crust gives it an extra crunch on top and a rustic feel.

Serving Suggestions:

    Serve in pasta bowls or on plates with your shredded basil on top. If this is a weeknight meal, you might decide this is enough food just like this. You might add a small side salad to get your veggies. If it's a party for six, this might be your side dish. You could leave out the ham and serve with a grilled chicken, grilled chops or whatever suits your fancy.

Enjoy!

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