3/4 lbs. (cut into 1/2-inch dice) Jambon de Paris
1 lb. orecchiette
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup unsalted butter, more for the dish
1 large shallot, finely diced (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk, warmed
2 cups freshly grated Grana Padano
2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1/4 tsp. Tabasco
2 cups frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 9×13-inch baking dish.Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil and add the pasta; cook according to package directions until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water, drain the pasta well, and return the pasta to the pot.
Meanwhile, for the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot, sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens and becomes translucent. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until it turns golden and smells nutty. Whisk in the milk in a slow, steady stream, and cook, whisking occasionally to avoid sticking on the bottom of the pan.. Remove from the heat and stir in all but 1/2 cup of Grana Padano, the thyme, 1-1/2 tsp. black pepper, 1/2 tsp. salt, and the Tabasco. Stir the ham and peas into the sauce; taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
Stir 1/4 cup of the pasta water into the béchamel so it loosens a bit and then toss with the pasta in the pasta pot. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, olive oil, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese, and sprinkle over the pasta. Bake the pasta until it bubbles and browns around the edges, about 20 minutes. Let cool for a couple of minutes and then serve.
Recipe credits: Tony Rosenfeld