Incredible Shells and Cheese
Why shells and cheese? Most recipes call for elbow macaroni so it’s a fair question. If you have read many of my recipes you probably know I travel off the beaten path of conformity, but it’s not different for difference sake, there’s a reason. Shells have more surface area and have a nice pocket to fill with cheese sauce. I also find shells to be more toothsome with a nice firm al dente bite. Texture and utility is a great combination.
The sauce however, makes or breaks this dish. I prefer a smooth and creamy sauce that coats your taste buds with the first bite. No stringy, oily cheeses allowed. That’s why any hard cheese like a sharp cheddar is verboten and it’s why you don’t find mozzarella in a mac and cheese recipe. Who wants to use a scissors to cut the cord with each dip from the serving dish?
Everyone loves it but there is a schism among mac and cheese lovers. The dividing line is based upon the conviction to bake, or not bake. This can be a touchy subject so I shall tread lightly here.
Personally, I am in the no-bake camp. Give me the shells coated in the luscious cheesy sauce and my eyes roll into the back of my head while I do a happy dance. However I do appreciate the texture that can be added with a few breadcrumbs. If you are a person of the baked persuasion then I recommend you cover the shells and cheese with panko bread crumbs in a baking dish and broil for 5 minutes or so until they brown.
To bake or not? Live and let live shall we say.
- Yield: 4-6 1x
- 8 oz medium shells
- 8 oz white american cheese – shredded
- 6–8 oz gruyere cheese – shredded
- 1 pint of half and half
- 2 TBL butter
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 TBL flour
- 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
- 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
- non-iodized salt for the pasta water
- Shred your cheeses, weigh your shells, measure out your butter and flour
- Place a pot of well salted water on at medium heat
- Melt butter in a sauce pan to make your roux
- Whisk in flour and cook on medium heat for about 4 minutes
- Add the half and half, nutmeg, white pepper and a half tsp of salt
- Stir to incorporate while the temperature rises enough to melt the cheese
- Turn up the heat on the water to high until it is a rolling boil
- Add the pasta and boil for 7-9 minutes or per pasta makers instruction. Taste it to make sure it’s al dente and do not overcook
- While the pasta is boiling stir in the cheese with a spatula a little at a time to your sauce until it’s all melted
- Taste the cheese sauce and adjust the flavor with salt and pepper to suit yourself
- When pasta is done, drain it well, then fold it into the cheese sauce on low heat.
And just one more thing…
My grandson refuses to try my shells and cheese because it’s the wrong color. A certain boxed variety is his favorite and he likes the orange flavor. Sigh.