Baked Shells and Cheese

18 Feb

Macaroni and cheese. We all love it. Whether it’s from Kraft’s blue box, an old recipe from your grandmother, or a modern version with five types of cheeses-two of which you’ve never heard of, we all swoon for the cheesy goodness. There’s something about melted cheese that makes our knees buckle and our mouths salivate. Don’t lie to me, I know you’re drooling just in anticipation of the recipe (and photos) to come. On New Year’s Day, while I was recovering from doing the 24 Hour Play at Eclectic Company Theatre, I did a lot of reading of blogs I follow. And one of my favorites is Joy The Baker. One of her posts from December was a recipe for baked shells with mushrooms and onions and as soon as I saw it I knew I had to make it. My roommate agreed. So that Saturday I did precisely that. No regrets. Looking forward to making it again in fact! Hope you enjoy!

Baked Shells and Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms Ingredients L-R: Salt & Pepper, Medium Pasta Shells, Mushrooms, Onion, Cheddar Cheese, Butter, Mozzarella, Goat Cheese

Baked Shells and Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms Ingredients L-R: Salt & Pepper, Medium Pasta Shells, Mushrooms, Onion, Cheddar Cheese, Butter, Mozzarella, Goat Cheese

BAKED SHELLS WITH MUSHROOMS AND ONIONS (serves about 4 to 6)

  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 3 Tbsp Unsalted Butter (about)
  • 1 Medium Yellow Onion
  • 4 oz Button or Cremini Mushrooms
  • 1 Tsp Fresh Thyme (I had none so I didn’t use any)
  • 2 Tbsp Flour
  • 1 1/4 Cups Whole Milk (I used Low Fat and Half & Half)
  • 1 Egg
  • 2 oz Goat Cheese
  • 1/4 Cup Shredded Gruyère (I used Mozzarella)
  • 3/4 Cup Shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • 8 oz. Pasta Shells
  • 1/6 Cup Panko Crumbs (or slice of bread cut up)

Placing one of your oven racks into the upper third of your oven, preheat your oven to 325 degrees and then do some mise en place. Slice up your onion into semi circles by first cutting your onion in half then slice thinly. Then cut and quarter your mushrooms and set aside. Then get your cheeses prepped. Because I already had a bag of shredded mozzarella at home I decided to use that instead of Gruyère (plus it saves me a few dollars), and then I shredded fresh cheddar and weighed out my goat cheese.

Shredded cheddar cheese, shredded mozzarella, and goat cheese.

Shredded cheddar cheese, shredded mozzarella, and goat cheese.

In a large pot, boil salted water for your shells. Cook your pasta  for only about 5 minutes so they’re just under cooked. (You’ll be baking them in the oven later so you don’t want them fully cooked.) Drain and set aside.

Medium Pasta Shells

Medium pasta shells all measured out.

While you wait for your water to boil work on sauteing your onions and mushrooms. In a medium skillet heat 1 tablespoon of oil and 2 teaspoons of butter over medium heat. Once hot add in your sliced onions and saute until translucent. Once translucent, add a pinch of salt, pepper and thyme and reduce the heat to low, cooking for about another 5 minutes until they are brown thoroughly cooked. Pour your onions into a small bowl and set aside.

Caramelized Onions

Sauteing the onions. In the photo on the right they are about a minute away from being done.

In the same pan, but turning the heat back up to medium, heat another tablespoon of oil and 2 teaspoons of butter and then add in your mushrooms and saute until golden brown and soft, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the heat to low and add a pinch of salt, pepper and thyme and continue to cook for another 5 minutes or so. Add to your bowl of onions.

sauteing mushrooms

Sauteing the mushrooms in butter. Yum!

By this time your water should be ready or almost ready for your pasta. While your pasta is cooking work on your cheese sauce. In a medium to large saucepan or pot make a roux. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and add in your flour and stir constantly until combined. Slowly pour in your milk and whisk until smooth and thick, about 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in a pinch of salt and pepper.

Cheese Sauce for baked shells.

Making the cheese sauce. Drooling yet?

In a separate small bowl beat your egg and add in a few tablespoons of your cream sauce and mix together. Once your egg is warmed add into the pot of cream sauce and mix well. Reduce your heat to low and add in your cheeses, stirring well to thoroughly mix your cheeses with the cream sauce and allow them to melt. Once all your cheeses are melted add in your cooked pasta and stir until pasta is well coated. Turn off the heat.

Baked Shells and Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms

Almost ready for the oven.

Pull out a baking dish of your choice. Joy used a pie pan, I used my square baking dish since I made half of her recipe, but for a full recipe she recommended a 9×13 dish. Whichever you prefer, grease it well and transfer half of your cheesy pasta into it. Then cover with your mushrooms and onions and top that with the rest of your pasta. In your skillet, over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and add in your panko bread crumbs. *Side Note: I used a piece of toasted bread chopped into small pieces.* Stir your bread crumbs so they are well coated in the butter and they are lightly toasted. Transfer your toasted bread crumbs to the top of your pasta.

bread crumbs

My improvised bread crumbs ready to be toasted in the butter.

Baked Shells and Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms

Fresh from the oven! Smells so good!

Place your baking dish into the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. The pasta should be sizzling and the bread crumbs should be browned. Remove from the oven and serve warm. Enjoy!

Baked Shells and Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms

Baked Shells and Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms Ready to eat! Yum!

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