Brats, mustard and beer are all iconic Oktoberfest foods. They are all good separately, but they're even better together. The richness of the brats is both cut and complemented by the mustard's sharp, acidic nature. And beer, of course, makes everything better.
Still, October has 31 days, and they can't all be filled with brats. Luckily, the flavors of October can go far beyond a brat in a bun, as is the case with this week's recipe, Creamy Kielbasa, Caramelized Onion and Gruyère Pasta.
A hearty, satisfying dish, this pasta starts with caramelizing onions, low and slow, taking the time to coax out all the natural sugars and complex flavors. In the caramelization process, a foundation of flavor is created on the bottom of the skillet, in the form of the brown bits that stick to the bottom of the pan as the onions cook.
These bits are referred to in culinary terms as "fond," which translates to "the foundation." An apt description, as it's all flavor in the bottom of the pan. And when a little liquid is added and those browned pieces are released, that flavor becomes the building block of the dish.
Kielbasa sausage, or smoked Polish sausage, is browned with the onions — again, more flavor. Next, uncooked pasta is added, along with some broth, cream and a generous amount of whole-grain mustard, which gives this rich dish an important hit of acidity.
The pasta, cooked directly in a flavorful liquid, soaks up that flavor and releases its starches into the liquid, creating a luxurious sauce. Just when the pasta is perfectly al dente, a few generous handfuls of shredded Gruyère are melted into the silky sauce, making this a version of mac and cheese you won't soon forget.
The topper to this over-the-top pasta may be unexpected, but it takes the dish to a new level. Crispy panko crumbs, browned in a little butter, give the dish a nice added texture.
Serve this dish with a crispy green salad, and perhaps a glass of cold beer, because, of course, beer makes everything better.
Creamy Kielbasa, Caramelized Onion and Gruyère Pasta
Note: Smoky sausage, sweet onions and bow tie pasta, all held together by a rich, cheesy sauce, is Oktoberfest in a bowl. From Meredith Deeds.
• 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
• 1 large onion, thinly sliced
• 14 oz. kielbasa, cut into 1/4-in. half-moon slices
• 5 c. (12 oz.) farfalle, or bow-tie pasta
• 2 1/2 c. homemade or low-sodium chicken broth
• 1 c. heavy cream
• 2 tbsp.Dijon mustard
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 1 1/2 c. shredded Gruyère cheese
• 1/2 c. panko breadcrumbs
• 1/4 c. chopped Italian parsley
Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 5 to 6 minutes, until beginning to brown. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until caramelized. Add the kielbasa and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, until browned in spots.
Add pasta, broth, cream, mustard, salt and pepper and bring to boil, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Remove cover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for another 5 to 7 minutes, until pasta is just tender and sauce is thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in cheese, 1/2 cup at a time.
While pasta is cooking, heat remaining 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat in a small skillet. Add the panko and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown.
Divide pasta among serving bowls and garnish with browned panko and chopped parsley.