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Orecchiette with Ham and Peas in Cheese Sauce

Maren Caruso

Servings: 8

In this dressed-up macaroni and cheese, orecchiette takes the place of tiny elbows, peas and ham add flavor and texture, and Grana Padano stands in for the usual Cheddar.

This recipe is excerpted from Big Buy Cooking.


  • 1 lb. orecchiette or other small shell pasta
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, more for the dish
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk, warmed
  • 2 cups freshly grated Grana Padano
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. Tabasco
  • 3/4 lb. ham steak, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 cups frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/2 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil


  • Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 9×13-inch baking dish.Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil and add the pasta; cook according to package directions until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water, drain the pasta well, and return the pasta to the pot.
  • Meanwhile, for the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a medium (3-quart) saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot, sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens and becomes translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until it turns golden and smells nutty, about 1 minute. Whisk in the milk in a slow, steady stream, and cook, whisking occasionally to avoid sticking on the bottom of the pan, until the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in all but 1/2 cup of Grana Padano, the thyme, 1-1/2 tsp. black pepper, 1/2 tsp. salt, and the Tabasco. Stir the ham and peas into the sauce; taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
  • Stir 1/4 cup of the pasta water into the béchamel so it loosens a bit and then toss with the pasta in the pasta pot. Add more pasta water as needed. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, olive oil, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese, and sprinkle over the pasta. Bake the pasta until it bubbles and browns around the edges, about 20 minutes (cover with foil if the top browns too quickly). Let cool for a couple of minutes and then serve.

Pair with a simple Mixed Green Salad with Red-Wine & Dijon Vinaigrette.


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Reviews (4 reviews)

  • mamalachef | 04/03/2014

    I'm someone who doesn't like a lot of sauce or a lot of cheese. I've never even made from-scratch macaroni and cheese for that reason.This recipe was a first time ever, and my husband and I love it whenever I make it.I like to taste a few simple ingredients. This one works for that reason.

  • mbloeff | 02/02/2011

    This was very easy to make and extremely flavorful. I mixed several "odds and ends" of cheeses that I had in the refrigerator and it had a really nice flavor and texture. Add a little extra tabasco for a warming winter meal. This recipe easily made it onto the family favorites list!

  • kak59 | 01/13/2011

    I added lots of extra cheese and used browned pancetta in place of the ham, and I thought that this recipe was very tasty and easy.

  • mommycook | 01/12/2011

    I followed the recipe to the letter. I was hoping for something really yummy and got just ok. It was bland despite the little kick the pepper and tabasco sauce gave it. Will not be making this one again. :(

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