Every once in awhile I am asked to a gathering with the note to bring a dish; there aren’t many things that bring on a sense of panic for me than the words “pot luck.” It is completely unreasonable, I know, but I do have a fear that my lonely dish will sit on the serving table completely untouched. Definite fear of party failure working here! This bringing-home-a-full-tray-of-food-aphobia keeps me on the hunt for a crowd pleasing casserole that is guaranteed to vanish before the party’s over. After making these Cheesy Pasta-Stuffed Shells from the BHG.com site, I think I have a permanent pot-luck winner.
The creative presentation is what really sets this macaroni and cheese recipe apart. Tiny shells are made up as macaroni and cheese, then stuffed inside jumbo shells and baked on top of a bed of sauce with a mound of gooey mozzarella cheese melted on top. It is a feast for the eyes as well as the tummy.
It’s really hard to mess with a good thing–as this recipe was 100% perfect all on its own–but I did make a few changes when I baked this up. In general, any combination of really good melty cheese is going to produce a phenomenal macaroni and cheese dish. This recipe calls for Gruyere, sharp cheddar and mozzarella. As luck would have it, the grocery store I popped into to pick up my ingredients didn’t have Gruyere. It’s a cheese smaller stores probably aren’t going to carry, and costs much more than the average block cheeses usually do. So instead, I bought a block of Swiss cheese. It was fabulous with the cheddar! Emmental cheese or Gouda cheese would also be good substitutes for Gruyere cheese in this dish.
This Cheesy Pasta-Stuffed Shells recipe is incredibly flexible, just as a good mac-and-cheese recipe should be. I made a few batches and threw in different ingredients into the pasta/cheese mixture before stuffing the shells. Chopped spinach was a welcomed add; a few more vegetables never hurt anyone, and the greens made this casserole feel like a more balanced meal. For extra flavor, chopped prosciutto is wonderful or you could try some Italian sausage, pepperoni or even some seasoned ground beef. Olives, tomatoes and mushrooms are also interesting additions. There is certainly a lot of room for culinary creativity.
Next time a “bring a dish” event comes my way, I know I’ll be ready. These pasta stuffed shells will be gone in a flash, and I’ll get to happily take home an empty pan!
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