Completely Elitist Orecchiette & Arugula Casserole

This isn’t really a political blog, but in light of recent circumstances (ahem — GObama! — ahem), I thought I’d make a little exception. Because if there’s one thing I learned from the long road to the Presidential election, it’s that food is political. Period. You cannot like arugula, for instance (which ironically was only a peasant food in Italian cuisine until recent waves of popularity), without being “elite” (and possibly, a terrorist). Let’s look beyond that. This casserole combines orecchiette pasta (if you don’t know what this is already, you better hit the books), homemade basil pesto, ARUGULA, pignoli (that’s “pine nuts” to you, cracker!), Fontina and Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese, bound together in a creamy bechamel and baked to a golden crust. What’s so un-American about something so insanely delicious? Let the elitist witch hunts be history!

And this is what I would have made had I still been entering the fourth annual Casserole Party tonight, hosted by Emily Farris, author of the new cookbook Casserole Crazy. Think I could have been a contender? I guess we’ll never know. Instead, this year, I had the enviable duty of serving as last-minute replacement judge. When the lovely and dear Camille Becerra’s restaurant Paloma burnt down due to a fire in the building last week, Emily asked if I would like to be promoted from contestant to judge in her place. Having no idea what my casserole creation would be at the time, I gladly accepted. Sometimes inspiration strikes at all the wrong times. (Paloma is currently renovating, and Camille hopes to bring it back into business ASAP.)

dry orecchiette pasta — move over, macaroni!

crisp, peppery arugula

I’m sure you’re wondering who the real winner(s) of the casserole contest will be, and that shall be in my next report. For now, I hope you take my so-called casserole expert advice that this completely elitist, and completely satisfying dish is something to die for. Like you would your country.

ten-second basil pesto with garlic and olive oil

pricey pine nuts

This is a completely vegetarian dish, although if you wanted to go even further with the elitist scheme I might suggest adding some bits of browned pancetta (aka rich man’s bacon). Oh, and on another elitist note, you’ll notice I only baked two individual “au gratin” dishes of this. Well, that’s because I didn’t need to feed a room full of contestants and judges any longer. But I kept the recipe for two individual servings intact below because, well, elitists just don’t have big ‘ol families to feed, now do they? Nor do they aim to expand their tidy waistlines with a full tray of leftovers to nosh at the rest of the week. So, double it up or even triple it if you want to make a more traditional-sized casserole. I won’t judge, promise. (Snicker, snicker.)

folding it all together

Completely Elitist Orecchiette & Arugula Casserole
(makes 2 servings)

1 1/2 cups orecchiette pasta
1 bunch arugula, stems trimmed
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup grated Danish Fontina
2 tablespoons basil pesto
1/4 cup pine nuts/pignoli
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
pinch of nutmeg (optional)
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
sea salt and black pepper to taste

Bring a medium saucepan with salted water to boil. Cook the pasta according to the box’s directions to al dente. Drain, reserving the cooking water, and refill the pot with the water. Bring to a boil again, and drop in the washed and trimmed arugula to blanche for 30 seconds. Remove with tongs and place immediately into an ice water bath. Drain, and roughly chop the greens.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Drain the pot and cook the butter and flour over medium-low eat, stirring until bubbly and evenly dispersed. Add the milk and cream and keep stirring over medium heat until it begins to bubble and thicken. Add the Parmiggiano, pesto, spices, salt and pepper. Next add the drained pasta and arugula and the pine nuts. Taste for seasoning.

Divide mixture into two greased individual au gratin dishes or small, oven-proof bakeware. Top evenly with the grated Fontina. Bake at 375 for approximately 30-40 minutes (depending on how large your bakers are), or until top is lightly browned. Let cool before serving.

Cost Calculator
(for 2 servings)

1 1/2 cups orecchiette pasta (about 1/3 15 oz. box at $1.99): $0.67
1 bunch arugula: $2.00
1/4 cup pine nuts (about 1/4 2.5 oz. pkg for $3.99): $1.00
1/2 cup grated Danish Fontina (at $7.99/lb): $2.00
1/4 cup grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano (at $11.99/lb): $1.75
1 cup milk: $0.50
1/2 cup heavy cream: $0.75
1 bunch basil (for the pesto): $1.50
1 clove garlic, 2-3 tablespoons olive oil (for the pesto): $0.25
1 Tb each butter and flour, salt, pepper, cayenne, nutmeg: $0.35

Total: $10.77

Health Factor

Seven brownie points: So what if there’s a lot of ultra-rich dairy in this au gratin? The French eat like this, as the old adage goes, without getting fat or heart disease. Just remember to drink plenty of wine with it. But in all seriousness, this richness couldn’t have chosen a better partner than arugula. Full of vibrant flavor and vitamins, it purportedly has as little as two calories per half-cup serving. Also, pine nuts, like most nuts, carry unsaturated or “good fats,” known to counteract the effects of bad, saturated fats while adding some protein to the dish.

Green Factor

Six maple leaves: It’s not easy being green and elite, but this casserole demonstrates how close it comes to being entirely possible. Luxury products like cheese and olive oil are often imported when considered the finest. But many alternatives to these traditional European cheeses and other artisanal foods are made closer to home, often available at the Greenmarket any given Saturday; I just didn’t happen to be shopping on the right day, unfortunately. Next time, I swear I’ll show you. Fortunately, I’d picked up my farm-fresh arugula bunch over the weekend, and had some organic cream and milk on hand.

23 Responses

  1. Judith

    That looks deliciously elitist!

    – A lesbian liberal French-loving vegetarian (but hey, at least I’m from the South and live in Iowa: there’s my conservative street cred)

  2. hanne

    I love how peasant food gets translated into elitist food– how does that happen anyway? It’s especially interesting because Italians were so discriminated against at the beginning of their time in America.

  3. Emily Farris

    Polenta: originally a peasant food, now an over-priced delicacy.

  4. hoppie

    I only wish I could make shit like this. I microwaved an artichoke the other day, and it felt like I had just won the Nobel Prize for cooking.

    To make french toast, I need the recipe book folded out in front of me, every time. Tons of devices for measuring. I thought about making pancakes the other day, but the thought of using a real ingredient like flour literally terrifies me.

    Thing is, I love recipes. I love cookbooks. I love cooking.

    Something’s gotta give.

  5. Elise O

    I recently made risotto and added swiss chard at the end…felt very accomplished, not to mention very healthy. It was yummy. However, it didn’t look as beautiful as your presentation. That really looks great.

  6. Joanna

    Mmmmm, elitism looks so tasty…

  7. Jenna

    Looks like YOU better hit the books… “orechiette” needs another “c”.

    (PS-The recipe looks wonderful.)

  8. m.thew

    The elitist’s peppery leaf is also known by it’s common American name, “rocket.”

  9. Emily

    That looks amazing! We’re having a comfort food recipe contest and all the Obama lovers in the office would love to have your elite recipe entered! :o) Check it out at

  10. parsnips aplenty

    I’ve never been a huge fan of arugula, but I almost felt like forcing some down after the Arugula Debacle, just out of spite. Foodie spite.

  11. Harrythebrooklynkitchen

    Well, had you not been judging I bet I would have voted for this. My only suggestion if not going vegetarian: add some really good (homemade if possible) Italian sausage.

  12. maggie

    Love it. Have you seen the “elitists for obama” buttons?

  13. Anne

    i think the fact that i’m tempted to bump the regular old potatoes au gratin at the Thanksgiving table and putting this in instead makes me sort of un-american. so be it!

  14. Snizzle

    Yo Cathy!

    I like this a lot, but I think it could use a kick. We tried it with gruyere cheese instead of the parm-reg and added a little salmon and hot spices and thought it was pretty good. The pinones (as my dad likes to call them) might be optional? That’s the cheap-ass in me talking.

  15. Antoinette

    This is my first recipe that I’ve made from your site. I just made it for friends and it was awesome and a big hit. I did skip the pine nuts only b/c I was cooking out of town at their place and couldn’t justify paying $10 for a package only to use a few of them (that was all their grocer had) but want to try it the next time I make it at my place. Thanks!

  16. Veronique Deblois

    That recipe looks crazy good. All the ingredients work so well together. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Disappointed

    What the hell kind of site and recipe is this?! It looked so good but then there’s this whole stupid non-stop fagggoty chatty won-shut-up-blog and stupid Obama shit and more idiots writing … don’t you people have any respect for yourselves? this looked like a great magazine and recipe, but there is no class here. Obama is arrogant, and all I saw on this recipe page leaves never wanting to go near this site, magazine, or recipe. Too bad. Think of me what you will, but there’s a reson people start to hate some gays, and it’s all right here. Too bad.

  18. Bunky

    It appears that a lot of people posting here have an abnormal amount of attitude.

  19. […] Completely Elitist Orecchiette and Arugula Casserole- This recipe popped up tonight. Our grocery store has orecchiette featured in the bulk section and I’ve always bypassed it. No more. […]

  20. rick

    Would normally have jumped right on this one as I am a real Italian food lover and also love all veggies. Unfortunately your political slant just turned me off so much that I am just deleting you from consideration at all. After the mess your man has made of the past 2 years as president I would hope you wised up enough to at least look for someone who is a) up to the job and b) has some knowledge of how the economy works and how jobs are created. This guy loses all the way around on just about any measure you can think of. I would hope you feel chastised for what you did to my country with your idiotic and ill-considered vote.

  21. drinda

    loved the orecchiette/argula casserole. Will be making soon. Is there a print cabability?

  22. nancyj

    I love the orecchiette/argula casserole this is the first recipe I have made
    from this site, but will continue to reap the value of the information you offer, I will also send it to friends, both republican
    and democrats, because they enjoy great recipes, and we enjoy each other company regardless of our political views.

  23. Emily

    Geez Louise! Some people just can’t take a joke. can they?! And I hate politics, but I can always appreciate some good humor. I think Obama seems like a nice guy, and ironically given all the “elitist” flack he gets, one of the most down-to-earth presidents we’ve had. I think when folks say elitist, they just mean smart. It’s too bad that having a smart president is such a shocker that folks have to call him names to make themselves feel better. Ugh! Anyway, more important than politics, in my opinion anyway, is good food! This recipe was so ridiculous! I doubled up for the bigger family and we all could barely keep our hands off it! Snicker away, but I’m thinking about warming up just a taste of it now as I type. This one’s a keeper!!!

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