Fast Fettucini with Ham and Jarlsburg

(for four servings)
1/2 lb Spaghetti
8 oz heavy cream
8 oz Jarlsburg or Gruyere cheese
8 oz Honeybaked ham or similar very good ham
1 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 Tbs Butter
1 Tbs Flour
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Start the fettuccini or spaghetti cooking with a good tablespoon or more of salt.  Whatever time the box lists, set your timer for 2 minutes less so you can test it and be sure to get out of the bath while it's truly al dente and not soft and mushy.

We're getting everything ready before starting the sauce which will go really fast and has to be stirred continuously, no leaving the stove to grate cheese after the fact. You'll need about a cup of the Jarlsburg (or Gruyere would be really good here too, also nutty and richly flavored) and the ham should be chopped up to equal about a cupful also.

Put the cream into the microwave for 1 minute only to warm it.

And now we are ready to commence saucing! Melt the butter over medium low heat until it just begins to foam. Sprinkle in the spoon of flour and immediately stir it in with a whisk. It will really foam up at first; keep it moving quickly to blend and lean in for the fragance to tell you when to add the hot cream, usually within just a minute or so. When the scent changes from a raw floury smell to slightly nutty

but it has not browned at all

(toss it and start again on lower heat if it browns) add the liquid in a steady stream, whisking all the while.

The butter/flour mixture will still look thin before the liquid comes in but will quickly thicken as you keep whisking.

As it bubbles along add the red pepper flakes and cheese and finally the ham. The pasta should be ready now. Before you drain it dip out about a cup of the pasta water to add to the sauce. This will not thin the sauce as much you'd think, just enough to make it coat the noodles better. This also adds some seasoning and starch to the sauce to make it better.

Add this in gradually, still whisking of course. The heat should be high enough for the sauce to bubble steadily and easily incorporate the pasta water completely. If it seems too thin, bubble it just another minute or two to rethicken. All in all, this sauce is ready in less than 10 minutes from start to finish.  And it's ready for the pasta.

I start by adding 2 cups and folding it in with a rubber spatula to see if more is needed. 3 cups at most is all you'll need.  (You can serve the left over pasta tomorrow with a little browned butter and a sprinkle of toasted almonds or pine nuts.)

 Powerful shake or two or three of black pepper.

 Finally, the last touch is that perfect parmigianno for our Fettucini - gild it with a hearty spoonful of finely grated parm and serve it up! Give it a taste first to be sure you're willing to share.

Jan Burke.