October 22, 2012

Grown Up Shells and Cheese (Recipe)

Macaroni and cheese.  It's a popular comfort food with people throughout the world, and my family is no exception.  However, when it comes to making it, ours is a house divided.  I like it homemade, with a thick layer of crunchy breadcrumbs topping pasta that is coated in a sauce made with the best sharp cheddar I can get.  Wife finds this type of macaroni dry, dull and lifeless.  If you ask her, macaroni and cheese is best when it comes from a box, the only cheese to be found in the form of a radioactive orange powder that has to be resuscitated with milk and butter before you can eat it.  (I imagine my description does a good job of conveying where I stand on the stuff.)  For awhile we tried to find a recipe she liked--she wants to enjoy real mac and cheese, anyway--but to no avail.  Everything from Alton Brown's "Good Eats" version to our friend's fabulous family recipe was met with reactions ranging from "ick" to "meh."  
So of course, when I finally made macaroni....well, shells...and cheese that my wife loved?  I wasn't even trying to work on that problem.  No, this dish came about because it was lunch time on grocery day, and it was time to clean out the refrigerator.  Don't you love it when that happens?   

Honestly, I wasn't even thinking "mac and cheese" when I started.  I was just thinking of different ingredients I needed to get rid of.  At almost any point during the first ten minutes of cooking, I could have taken an abrupt left and ended up making a cold pasta salad.  But considering the reactions of both Wife and kids, I'm pretty happy with the direction I went.

First, boil lightly salted water in a large pot and cook five cups of pasta shells (or macaroni) until they are al dente'.   I used larger shells, and they were great for holding the sauce. While the noodles are cooking, coat a 9x9 glass or Pyrex baking dish with a thick coating of butter.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.    

It will keep everything from sticking and become part of the sauce.
Once the pasta has been thoroughly drained, all you have to do is mix in the following ingredients:

1 cup of milk
1/2 cup of shredded provolone
1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup of crumbled gorgonzola
2 T. butter
2 cups of baby spinach
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. minced garlic

Stir everything until the cheese is starting to melt to your spoon and the spinach is wilted, then transfer to the baking dish. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.
Should look like this.
Over the top, sprinkle half a cup of seasoned breadcrumbs and another 1/4 cup of the gorgonzola.  Then drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over the breadcrumbs.
By this time Wife was feeling optimistic.  
 Bake, uncovered, for fifteen minutes.  Makes approximately five lunch sized portions.

After I pulled the shells and cheese out of the oven, Wife came over and took the first bite.  "Is it good?"  I asked.  "No," she replied.  "It's fantastic."  She and the two beasts devoured their portions in about a minute.  I took time to savor mine.  It wasn't boxed macaroni and cheese, and it wasn't exactly the homey version I usually crave, but it didn't matter.  Not only did everything taste good, but the shells and cheese did something even better.  It hit that comfort food spot.  It's been raining like crazy as I type this, and I am pretty sure as fall turns to winter I will be making this again soon, and with regularity.  I think you'll probably like it too.

What's your favorite comfort food?

1 comment:

  1. Sounds yummy! I have to agree with your homey version of m&c over Jenny's. I grew up with a mom that made it with bread crumbs and grated cheese in a thick crust over the top. Nothing better.