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Nothing says comfort food like a Tropical Storm!

We are still waiting for the storm to hit. Latest news reports say that it will not have enough time out in open water to turn into a hurricane once it hits land again, which is good, but it will hit land again as a tropical storm, right here in our lovely town of Saint Augustine. We are right on the coast here in Northern FL. Less than a five minute walk from the water. We have already seen rising waters and some low lying areas (well everything is low lying around here) have flooded and the storm isn’t even here YET. We should be expecting it tonight or more likely tomorrow. Everything is closing up and our county has declared a state of emergency. The National Guard is already here, thankfully, and we live on the second floor, so we are staying put. We are ready with supplies and we have just moved everything off the porch. The wind is starting to pick up, but nothing severe yet.

The summer has been pretty rainy here especially since the end of July, which is like monsoon season in Florida – it rains everyday, and even if it doesn’t rain, a large part of the day is gray and the sky rumbles.

So much for The Sunshine State.

My appetite begins to get confused – from inside, looking out it seems like a fall day, but as soon as you step outside it is sweltering hot and sticky humid. Even so, during the first week or so of this, my brain temporarily goes from cooling summer foods, right back to the land of comfort food. Which in this case, was Pasta al Forno – or oven backed pasta, much like a Mac n’ cheese of sorts. This dish was creamy and satisfying – chock full of flavors and textures. Roberto took one bite and he was transported back to childhood memories of tortellini with peas in bechamel. This may be a new family favorite. It certainly does hearken to rainy days under a blanket with a good book and glass of rich red wine under a Tuscan sky… Or perhaps just a storm safe closet! ;)

But maybe this will even stave off Fay! :)

Italian Style Mac n’ Cheese

INGREDIENTS:

1 package penne pasta

3 TBS olive oil
5 small sweet Italian multi colored peppers, diced
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup white wine
6 green olives, sliced
1 9 oz. pack of frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 strips of bacon, chopped

Pesto-Bechamel Sauce

3 TBS butter
2 TBS flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 TBS pesto

Bread Crumbs, Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top

METHOD:

Cook pasta for about 6 minutes in boiling salted water. Remove while still kind of hard. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 F.

In a large skillet, sautee the peppers, onion and garlic over medium high heat until they begin to brown. Pour wine into skillet and turn heat down to medium, allow to reduce down all the way.
In a large bowl combine sautee with olives and artichoke hearts. Set aside.

Make Bechamel Sauce. In a small saucepan, heat up milk. In a larger sauce pan, melt butter. Once butter is melted, quickly whisk in flour, making sure there are no lumps. Cook for a minute or two until it is a light brown color. Immediately begin whisking warm milk in, slowly. Keep whisking until all milk is incorporated. Whisk a few minutes more, while it thickens. Once it is the right consistency, add pesto and mix thoroughly Set aside.

Butter a large baking dish. Dump pasta into dish. Add sautee, pine nuts, peas, and bacon. Stir to mix. Then add the bechamel and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Sprinkle bread crumbs and parmesan cheese over top, cover with foil and bake in the oven for about 35 minutes. Remove the foil, and place under the broiler for about 2-3 minutes to brown the cheese. Serve hot and enjoy!