Farfalle with Ham, Mushrooms, and Peas in Creamy Fontina Sauce Recipe

Lavender (lavanda, in Italian) is one of the quintessential Mediterranean plants for the garden, and at Bramasole we’re about to pull up our 10-year old, overly-woody, lavender hedge and drop in new plants. And we’ll have to wait until next year for the most spectacular scene of thousands and thousands of butterflies on the luscious lavender-blue blooms. Bramasole has been called at these times The Butterfly House. So I’ve included this delicious recipe from Pasta Veloce, for “butterfly” pasta. Some may call it “bowtie” but the bowtie in Italian is sometimes called il farfallino (little butterfly), but it’s also called un papillon, the French word for butterfly.

Farfalle with Ham, Mushrooms, and Peas in Creamy Fontina Sauce

Serves 4 to 5

Mild and creamy, this pasta is comfort food. Semi-soft, young Fontina cheese melts beautifully to create the smooth sauce. The best Fontina comes from Val d’Aosta in the overwhelmingly beautiful northwest mountains, one of the best summer hiking and winter sports areas in Italy. In dreamy Cogne, cozy village restaurant Brasserie du Bon Bec serves melted Fontina with squares of polenta to dip. While Italian Fontina has a distinctive nutty taste, it is sometimes hard to come by. The internet to the rescue! Domestic Fontina, made with pasteurized milk, is pleasing, but quite mild. A bit of added Parmigiano punches up the flavor.

10 ounces (280 g) farfalle
1 cup (8 ounces/225 g) frozen baby peas
1 cup (240 ml) whole milk
½ cup (120 ml) heavy cream
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1½ teaspoons potato starch, or cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
3 ounces (85 g) Fontina cheese, shredded (about ¾ cup)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 shallot, chopped
8 ounces (225 g) white button or baby bella (cremini) mushrooms, thickly sliced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
8 ounces (225 g) flavorful ham, cubed
3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the farfalle until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Place the frozen peas in a large colander; rinse briefly to break up any clumps.
Meanwhile, in a heavy medium saucepan, combine the milk, cream, nutmeg, and cayenne. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring and scraping the bottom often. As soon as bubbles appear around the edges, reduce the heat to medium-low. Gradually whisk in the dissolved potato starch and simmer, whisking, until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the Fontina, stirring until it melts. Season with salt and black pepper. Set the cheese sauce aside, covered to keep warm.

In a large deep skillet, sauté the shallot and mushrooms in the olive oil over high heat, stirring and tossing often, until the mushrooms start to give up their liquid and are just beginning to color, about 3 minutes. Season with the lemon juice, salt, and a generous grind of black pepper. Add the ham, remove from the heat, and cover to keep warm.

When the farfalle is al dente, drain into the colander right over the peas. Add the pasta and peas and the cheese sauce to the skillet. Sprinkle on the Parmigiano and toss to mix everything together.

From Pasta Veloce: 100 Fast and Irresistible Recipes from Under the Tuscan Sun By Frances Mayes and Susan Wyler. Photos by Steven Rothfeld