This is a nice dinner idea, especially when you are craving for some great comfort food during the cold times of the year. Hazelnuts are plentiful during the cold seasons where I am but you can substitute these for other nuts you like e.g. walnuts, pine nuts, pecan. You can leave out the spice for kids and also substitute the herbs for your own favourite ones.
Serves 3 – 4
What you need:
- 250 g dried pasta of your choice
- 100g of mushrooms (I think the brown chestnut variety are the best for this)
- 1 medium onion (any will do, but shallots or red onions give a nice milder flavour)
- 4 heaped tablespoons cream cheese or crème fraîche
- 150 g mixed leftover cheese (I used a combination of cheddar, gruyere and dolce latte). Grate or finely chop and keep aside.
- A handful of spinach leaves
- olive oil
- salt to taste
- Pepper, to taste
For the crunchy topping:
2 slices of bread (any will do!)
1 small clove of garlic
- 1 teaspoon crushed red chillies (or to taste)
1 sprig of fresh herbs (I used rosemary and thyme which I have in the garden)
A handful of hazlenuts (about 50g)
How to make it:
1. To make the topping, lightly toast the bread slices. You can use bread that’s a few days old too. Peel the garlic, then blitz in a food processor along with the toasted bread, herbs, red chillies, a pinch of salt, and nuts until they look like fine breadcrumbs. Preheat a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat, add a drizzle of olive oil, then add the topping mixture and fry gently for around 5 minutes, or until golden and crisp. This mixture can burn easily so do keep an eye on it!
MKA tip: The topping can be made in advance and saved in an airtight container to use the next day or in a couple of days. It won’t be nice if you keep it for more than a week. However if you want to keep it for longer, this mixture will freeze well for up to about a month!
2. So the next step is to boil some salted water in a large pan, then reduce the heat to low and place a large heatproof bowl on top. Add the cream cheese to the bowl along with the grated cheeses, crumbling or grating any harder varieties first, then stir until melted. Carefully remove the bowl from the heat and set aside, then turn the heat up to high. Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook according to packet instructions. Drain, reserving a cupful of cooking water, then add to the bowl of melted cheese and toss to coat, adding a splash of the reserved cooking water to loosen, if needed. Finally mix through the spinach leaves until they are wilted.
3. Transfer to your serving dish, drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle the topping just before serving. This dish is not nice at all if it’s cold, so you may have to re-heat for second servings!