Baked Paccheri with Crab and Ricotta

2 ounces (½ stick) unsalted butter, diced, plus more for greasing the baking dishes
2 ounces all-purpose flour
1 quart milk
½ small yellow onion
1 bay leaf
1 clove
Generous pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

500 grams (1.1 pounds) paccheri

2 large eggs

1 clove garlic, grated

1 ¾ pounds ricotta

5 ½ ounces grated Parmegiano-Reggiano

1 pound lump Dungeness crabmeat, picked over

 

Heat the butter in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat until it melts, bubbles, and the foam subsides. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it begins to smell toasty. Whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, add the onion, bay leaf, clove, and nutmeg, and simmer for 20 to 22 minutes, or until thick. Remove from the heat, strain through a fine mesh sieve, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool.

 

Cook the paccheri in a large pot of boiling, salted water according to the package directions. When the paccheri begins to soften, using a wire skimmer, transfer it from the pot to a large bowl of ice-cold water to stop the cooking process, and then drain it thoroughly. Layer the paccheri between clean kitchen towels to dry.

 

Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Butter 8 individual baking dishes. Whisk together the eggs and garlic in a large bowl. Stir in the ricotta, 1 ½ ounces of the Parmegiano, and the crabmeat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip and pipe into the paccheri, filling each one loosely. Divide the filled paccheri among the baking dishes, arranging them in a single layer. Divide the white sauce among the baking dishes and spread evenly. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining 4 ounces of Parmegiano. Arrange the baking dishes on a baking tray and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling around the edges.

 

Serves 8. The paccheri should be boiled until it begins to soften but not until it is al dente. Undercooking the pasta in this way ensures that it doesn't become too mushy once it's baked.  Feel free to substitute manicotti or jumbo shells for the paccheri. This rich dish is best accompanied by a salad with a sharp vinaigrette.

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