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Creamy Alfredo with Ham and Vegetable Medley

Serves 8-10

salt to taste
pepper to taste
1 T. olive oil
1 T. butter
1 shallot minced
1 clove of garlic minced
1 clove of garlic smashed
1 ham steak about 1 lb, chopped into consistent sizes
1 (8 oz.) container of mushrooms (any you like, try Portobello or baby Portobello), slice them fairly thinly.
2-3 Sprigs of fresh thyme
1 Jar of Alfredo sauce (any brand you choose is fine)
1/8 tsp. of freshly grated nutmeg
1 lb. shaped Pasta (Rotoni, Rotelle, Capellini, any twisted shape works great)
1 ladleful of pasta water for the sauce
1/4 c. Parmagiano Reggiano cheese (optional)

In a large heavy bottom pot, turn the heat to high for water to boil. (If you have stainless steel cookware don't turn it up so high, the bottom of the pan may burn.) Use a large pot because when cooked in a small pot, pasta tends to stick together and not cook thoroughly. Cover the pot to hold in the heat so that it comes to a boil quicker. While the water is heating up, get a 10" skillet with a heavy bottom, add the olive oil and butter, and keep the heat at medium - low to make sure the garlic does not burn. As the butter melts, add the shallot, and the garlic. After a few moments turn up the heat a little and add the ham, you should hear the ham sizzle a bit, an indication that it is browning. Keep a close eye on the garlic as well to ensure that it does not burn. Wipe the mushrooms off with a damp paper towel before you slice them. If you rinse mushrooms sometimes they can absorb water, which will keep them from browning. Add the sliced mushrooms to the pan. Let the mushrooms brown for 3-5 minutes, don't add the salt until you've tasted the ingredients together. Ham can be salty and depending on your taste, you may not need any more salt. After the mushrooms have browned, add salt and pepper to taste. The last ingredient to add is the fresh thyme, strip the thyme leaves from the stems by gently pulling backwards on the stems and they should come off quite easily. Let the ingredients come together for a 2-3 minutes before turning off the heat on the pan.

By now your pasta should be boiling, add a generous amount of salt. Pasta has flavor like anything else, it has eggs and flour and other ingredients in it. Salt will bring out that flavor. For this application I recommend using kosher salt, it has no iodine in it, and the flavor can be not as harsh as salt with iodine in it. If you only have table salt on hand that's fine. After you have salted the water, add the pasta stirring it around in the pot. Stir the pasta every few minutes. Look at the directions for boiling the pasta on the box. It should have one time for al dente, start checking the pasta at the point for doneness. Before you drain the pasta save a ladleful of the pasta water for the sauce.

For the Alfredo sauce, smash a clove of garlic or cut a clove of garlic in half. Pour the pasta sauce into a 3-1/2 quart saucepan. Add the garlic, you will fish it out before you serve the dish. The garlic will infuse flavor into the pasta sauce. Add 1/8 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg, if you only have already grated nutmeg on hand that's fine, the same measurement applies. Keep the sauce at a low heat, so that it does not boil. After a couple of minutes, fish out the garlic clove and add the vegetables and ham. The reason I suggest doing them in a different pot is because the oil and browned bits in the pan may cause the sauce to discolor. Let the flavors come together for a minute and add the pasta water. The starch in the pasta water will help the pasta sauce come together and help the sauce adhere to the pasta.

When the pasta is done, drain the pasta but do not rinse. Add the sauce to the pasta, tossing it so that the sauce clings to the pasta and the flavors have a chance to combine. If you like you can add 1/4 c. Parmigiano Reggiano cheese on top.

Susan Culbertson

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