All of the flavors go so well together. The bite of the cream cheese in the sauce goes really well with the lemon vinaigrette, which works super well with the arugula and torn basil in the salad. And of course everything's tied together with bacon. Which rules.
This is always a hit around the house and is very finger friendly for the kids.
Even though I'm not a huge fan of Rachael Ray, this one is a keeper.
Creamy BLT Pasta & Salad
1 box penne rigate pasta (I usually use the whole wheat version)
6 slices bacon, chopped
1 large leek, trimmed, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons tomato paste
6 oz cream cheese, cut into pieces (I use the 1/3 fat kind)
1 1/2 cups good quality shredded parmesan or "3 cheese" blend cheese
1/2 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered (about 6 oz)
5 oz bag of baby arugula
1 cup basil leaves, torn
Juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (about 1 tablespoon, maybe a tad more)
Start by getting a pot on to boil for the pasta. Add a tablespoon of salt to the water. You'll want to cook the pasta al dente and save a cup of the pasta water for the sauce.
Also, go ahead and preheat the oven to 500.
While that's coming up to temp, start your sauce.
Add the chopped bacon to a pan on medium heat, along with a quick drizzle of olive oil.
Cook until it's pretty well done, but try not to overcook it. Brown around the edges is great.
Toss in your chopped leek. It will start to wilt in the hot fat almost immediately. Cook constantly until it's soft, only about 2-3 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Do not overcook the garlic. Should only take a minute.
Add the tomato paste and stir to incorporate. You'll notice a lot of oil starting to be produced. Don't worry. Should take about a minute.
Add the cream cheese. It goes faster if you break it into pieces, but it still takes a little while to fully integrate it into the sauce. Be patient and keep stirring. I'd say 3-5 minutes, tops.
Once that's in, add half the cheese (3/4 cup) and stir to combine. This should only take a minute.
Add the cup of reserved pasta water and stir to combine.
It looks much more presentable now that it's more of an emulsion.
Go ahead and kill the heat and add your cooked and drained pasta and stir to combine.
I lost a few overboard.
Once it's evenly combined, pour into a 9x13 casserole and add the tomatoes and the rest of the cheese.
Toss it into the 500 degree oven for 8 minutes.
In the mean time, get your salad together.
I used a 5 oz bag of baby arugula and this much basil (about a cup)
I've tried a number of different greens for this, but I assure you, the baby arugula is the best combo here. Trust me.
Tear up the basil into rough pieces and toss with the arugula.
As for your lemon vinaigrette, I juiced a whole lemon and got about 1/4 cup. I added about a tablespoon of good quality extra virgin olive oil to it and whisked to combine.
After tasting I added just a bit more oil. You're going to have to feel this one out on your own. It's really not that hard to get wrong, just add the oil slowly and taste often. I finished with a pinch of salt and pepper to the dressing.
Your pasta should be done by now. It doesn't need to be browned, just have the cheese melted.
Dress your salad either on the plate or in the salad bowl and serve. This is really good if you take a bite of the pasta and the salad at the same time. She really nailed the flavor combinations on this one.