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~My Basic Asiago Cheese Sauce for Pasta/Veggies~

IMG_2806As a gal who grew up in the latter '50's, '60's and early '70's, I did not grow up eating fake "cheese-feed" products.  You know what I mean:  thick, bottled Olive Garden-type pasta sauces that bear no resemblance to delicate, real-deal Alfredo sauce, and, gloppy, jarred Cheez-Whiz-type concoctions that get poured over vegetables and nachos.  Besides the calories (and who knows what else), I feel lucky that I grew up in a family during a time in history when everyone appreciated good cheese.  Back then, even us Americans hand-sliced and grated our own cheese (it didn't come out of a bag that way).  I'm proud to report that my childhood macaroni and cheese was not a box of K-R-A-F-T, although I do recall our family experimenting briefly with cheese that squirted out of can -- which my mother declared "overpriced garbage"!

A homemade, well-made cheese sauce is not evil...  

IMG_2867... drenching pasta &/or veggies with it is!

IMG_2826While I did not grow up eating cheese sauce, I'm smart enough to know that good cheese sauce recipes have had, and always will have, a valid place in the food world.  It's not evil.  In moderation, it is a justifiable way to try to get picky eaters to eat their vegetables.  For almost seven years, Joe's mother Ann, who needed to boost her calorie and calcium intake, loved my cheddar cheese sauce on broccoli or cauliflower, and, my Asiago cheese sauce on pasta!

IMG_2036A bit about Asiago cheese (ah-zee-AH-go):  Originally, Asiago was a sheep's milk cheese produced in the Veneto foothills of Italy. Nowadays it is made from pasteurized cow's milk.  During the aging process, Asiago changes textures.  The most important thing you need to know is there are two kinds of Asiago:  fresh (Pressato) and aged (d'allevo).

Asiago Pressato, aged for just 1-2 months, is sold as softer, mild cheese.  Asiago d'allevo, a firmer, harder, grating cheese is aged for different time periods:  Mezzano (4-6 months); Vecchio (10+ months), and; Stravecchio (2+ years).  Any aged Asiago is similar to Parmesan or Romano, with Parmesan being a little sharper and Romano being a lot sharper than Asiago.  You can substitute either Parmesan or Romano for Asiago, IF the cheese is to be sprinkled over a finished dish at the end, but, IF the cheese is to be cooked into the dish, as is the case of this cheese sauce, it has been my experience that neither Parmesan nor Romano melt as evenly and creamily as their slightly-softer Asiago cousin does.

IMG_1776You're going to need 1 cup of grated Asiago cheese for this recipe, and usually, a little extra for topping/garnishing the finished dish you use are making it for.  I always grate more than what I need, so I can keep it on hand in a container in my refrigerator.  Today, I placed a 2-pound piece, that I cut into 1"chunks, in the work bowl of a large-capacity food processor fitted with a steel blade.  In about 45 seconds, all of my cheese was grated and in the refrigerator!

IMG_2048For Asiago cheese sauce (enough to sauce 1 pound of pasta):

2  tablespoons salted butter

2  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/2  cups heavy cream

1  cup grated Asiago cheese

IMG_2056 IMG_2049~ Step 1.  In a 1-quart saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Increase heat to medium and add the flour, salt and cayenne pepper. Using a large spoon or a small whisk, stirring constantly, cook until mixture is thick, smooth and bubbly, about 30-60 seconds.

IMG_2079 IMG_2060~ Step 2. Add cream. Stirring constantly, cook until smooth, thickened & drizzly, 3-4 minutes.

IMG_2081~ Step 3. Lower heat to low and add the grated Asiago.

IMG_2084~ Step 4.  Continue to stir constantly until cheese is melted and sauce is ribbonlike in texture.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside.

IMG_2098Note:  You'll have 2 cups of sauce. Reheat gently on stovetop or in microwave.  Add more cream, if necessary, to thin sauce to desired consistency.

Toss with 1-pound cooked & drained pasta, or...

IMG_2784... for a crowd-pleasing, 15-minute pasta & veggie side-dish:

IMG_25942  cups small broccoli florets

1  cup coined carrots

1  pound fun, fork-friendly pasta

1 stick salted butter, softened

1 1/2-2  cups Asiago cheese sauce, from above recipe

Note:  Feel free to add more of the sauce to this dish, to your liking, but, DO NOT oversauce the pasta!

IMG_2648 IMG_2606~ Step 1.  In a 1-quart saucepan bring 2 cups of water to a boil.  Add 1 teaspoon salt.  Add and blanch broccoli for 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Drain and rinse in cool water.

IMG_2611~ Step 2.  In saucepan, blanch carrots, 2-2 1/2 minutes.

IMG_2653 IMG_2636                                              ~ Step 3. In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a boil over high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon salt.  Sprinkle in the pasta and cook, according to package directions, until al dente. Drain but do not rinse.  Place butter in still hot stockpot, return the still hot pasta to pot and place pot back on the still warm stovetop.

IMG_2667 IMG_2660~ Step 4. Toss until butter is melted. Stir in some cheese sauce, stopping after 1 1/2 cups. Gently fold in the carrots, then the more delicate broccoli.  Taste and add additional cheese sauce, in small amounts, only if necessary. I added no additional sauce today (and I almost never do).  Why?

The pasta should be lightly enrobed in cheese sauce!

IMG_2737Portion & serve immediately garnished with red pepper flakes...

IMG_2813... and dig in!

IMG_2724My Basic Asiago Cheese Sauce for Pasta/Veggies:  Recipe yields 2 cups cheese sauce, enough to sauce 1 pound of cooked pasta with or without blanched vegetables tossed into it.

Special Equipment List:  1-quart saucepan w/lid; spoon or small whisk; paper towels; fork; spoon; cutting board; chef's knife, vegetable peeler; 1-quart stockpot; colander; 8-quart stockpot

IMG_2537Cook's Note:  To get ~ My Basic Cheddar Cheese Sauce Recipe for Vegetables ~, which everyone just loves drizzled over steamed broccoli and/or cauliflower, just click into Categories 4, 8, 14, 17 or 20. It's also great on nachos or burgers. Never buy that bottled glop again!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos, courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014) 


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