Do you love cheese and noodles? That's probably a "yes" since you ended up at this blog! If you do, you would probably really like this recipe. It has tender shell noodles that curl around each other, and lots of creamy, cheesy, herby sauce studded with the occasional tomato chunk. If I may say, this is a restaurant quality pasta dish and is even prettier than the average casserole (not that you can tell from my photos!). It's funny because before I baked it, I wasn't sure how great it was going to be. The sauce mixed with the pasta tasted fine, but not amazing. Something magical happened in the oven, though. The flavors combined and mellowed- and ended up being something wonderful!
This is a recipe I kinda sorta thought up a couple of weeks ago and finally made last night. I say "kinda sorta" made it up because it was inspired by this Baked Macaroni and Cheese recipe from Food.com. If you take a peek at the original you can see that it is VERY different from what I actually made and I've basically made it unrecognizable! That's just what I do :oD I think it's different enough that I can call it my own recipe!
Quick note: The shells I used for this were bigger than normal. Certainly not as big as the kind you use for stuffed shells, but bigger than the ones I normally see. If you can find those, buy 'em, because they're perfect for holding all the yummy sauce!
Creamy Herb and Tomato Shell Casserole
1 lb shell pasta
4 T butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 t salt, plus more
1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes
2 t dried basil
1 t dried oregano
4 C milk, divided
4 T cornstarch
8 oz freshly grated parmesan, divided
8 oz grated monterey jack cheese (or mozzarella), divided
16 oz can Italian stewed tomatoes with some of the juice drained off
Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9 by 13 baking dish. In a large pot of lightly salted water, boil pasta until just before al dente. It will continue cooking in the oven. Drain, return to pot, and cover.
While pasta cooks, melt butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat and saute garlic until golden. Add seasonings and cook a few seconds. Add 3 1/2 C milk and heat almost to a simmer. In a measuring cup, stir together remaining 1/2 C milk and cornstarch until smooth. Stir into sauce and stir constantly until sauce thickens, then continue cooking and stirring for another minute. Remove from heat and stir in all but 1/2 cup of the parmesan until melted.
Add sauce to pasta and stir to coat. Taste and add more salt if if needs it (I ended up adding another teaspoon). Pour half of the pasta into the baking dish and top evenly with the stewed tomatoes and 1 cup of the monterey jack cheese. Top with remaining pasta, the rest of the parmesan, and the rest of the monterey jack.
Bake until lightly golden and bubbly, about 40 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.
Yield: About 10 servings