shells al forno

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from the blue jean chef Meredith Lawrence comes this recipe which is certainly cheesy and not low-calorie.  it can be divided into small portions and frozen for future meals.  it is very similar to a baked macaroni and cheese, with the choice of cheeses being the main difference in flavor. i would say that this recipe is a bit more upscale and was originally written with penne as the pasta of choice. i used medium shells, as that is what i had in my pantry.

the ingredients are simple and would be most likely on hand in your cupboard. 3/4 pound of dried pasta, 2 tablespoons butter, 3 tablespoons flour, 2 cups milk at room temperature, 1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese, 1 cup grated white cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1 tsp salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste.  i also used panko bread crumbs for the topping.  i substituted for Gruyere with fontina cheese.

preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  boil water to cook the pasta.  cook according to directions on the box.  drain and set aside. meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat.  melt the butter and whisk in the flour to make a roux.  cook the flour for two minutes at least.  next, slowly whisk in the milk and stay with it, continuing to whisk until a smooth mixture is obtained.  this make take 5-8 minutes of mixing to make certain there are no lumps.  the key is not to add the milk to quickly.  stir and whisk, and stir in and whisk. a spoon will not do the trick here, a nice flat sided whisk will work wonderfully.  bring the sauce to a boil and then take the pan from the heat and stir in the grated cheese and seasonings.  add the pasta to the pan, and place in a greased ceramic baking dish.  i added parsley flakes and panko bread crumbs to the top.

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bake in a 400 degree oven for about 18 minutes until the top is golden brown.  this dish would also be very good as a chicken and pasta dish, or a shrimp and pasta dish.  simply add the cooked chicken or shrimp pieces with the cheese step.  even bacon could be added as an option to this casserole.

serve with a green salad or a green vegetable for color contrast.  excellent recipe for a special treat.

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