Italian PASTA bake and stuffed SHELLS {2 recipes}

Whether creamy cheese sauces get paired with vegetables or just tomato sauce...
a 'pasta al forno' and stuffed pasta shells will always be in for a second helping.

Although some are experiencing a true Spring feeling...
we are still in the midst of Montreal's snow sprinkle with a splash of thawing tease.

The oven is still in high gear and unfortunately the insulating carbs are as well.
Oh well, after that first bite, the guilty pleasure will kick in and you'll forget all about it.
There's always tomorrow...isn't there?!?

'Pasta al forno' is not only a real staple in Italian cuisine, it's incredibly versatile.
Use whatever is leftover from the vegetable drawer and sauté it with a boozy splash.

Stuffed pasta Shells, although a little more time consuming are an incredible delight.
Don't let yourself get discouraged from making these.  
Once you try them, you'll continue to show off these gems every chance you get.

Alright, onto more serious additions...lots of different CHEESES please.
Oh yes, the variety or lack thereof is key to your successful pasta bake.
Shred as many of your favourite cheeses and lend them your palate and then adjust ;o)

I've also used both regular milk as well as canned, evaporated milk for a creamier outcome.
Several parts of these recipes can be made ahead...don’t stress...enjoy the journey.

Pasta Al Forno
My Italian version of 'Mac and Cheese'
Serves: 8-10 persons 
[1 - (9-x-13-inch) /3 Litre] baking pan

(American / Metric measures)

. 1 package (500g) uncooked pasta: small 'Penne'

VEGETABLE mix: (suggestion)
. 4 Tbsps. (60ml) in total: e.v.Olive Oil and butter
. 1 large sweet onion, finely chopped
. 1 large bell pepper, finely chopped
. 1 large garlic clove, finely minced
. 4 cups (300g) cremini mushroom, thinly sliced
. half a medium size red cabbage, thinly sliced
. 2 Tbsps. (30ml) fortified Sherry wine
. 2 tsp. (10ml) each: sea salt, granulated garlic
. 1 tsp. (5ml) each: basil, marjoram, tarragon
. 2 small cans (~400ml) of crushed Italian tomato
or prepared tomato sauce (750ml)

. 2 cups (500ml) milk (2% fat)
. 1 can -12oz.(370ml) evaporated milk
. 4 Tbsps. (60ml) unsalted butter
. 4 Tbsps. (60ml) all-purpose flour
. 1 tsp. (5ml) each: sea salt, granulated garlic
. 1 Tbsps. (15ml) Dijon mustard
. 2 Tbsps. (30ml) fortified Sherry wine
. Cheeses: 2 cups (160g) worth...grated and packed: 
half the amount in Friulano (mild cheese), a generous portion in Parmesan, 
and smaller amounts of both Cheddar and Romano

. Prepare a large pot of water and have it simmer while preparing the rest of the parts.
Vegetable mix:
1. In a large skillet, prepare the vegetable mix.   Caramelize the onions well before adding the rest of all the ingredients.   Cook for 10 minutes and close the heat.
Cheese Sauce:
2. In a medium-large saucepan...melt the butter on medium heat until bubbly.  Whisk in the flour until smooth and cook the 'roux' until a light nutty aroma is realized without having it brown.
3. Incorporate a very small quantity of milk at first.  Whisk to smoothen the 'roux' and then very gradually add the rest of the milk and increase the heat to medium-high.  Add the salt, granulated garlic, mustard and Sherry while whisking.  Once a gentle rolling boil appears and the milk starts slowly rising on the sides, it's ready for the next step.  Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cheeses together until smooth.  Note:  Keep whisking once and a while to avoid a crust from forming.
4. MEANWHILE...bring the pasta water to a boil.  Add some salt and cook the pasta very 'Al Dente'.
5. Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C/Gas4.   Lightly oil the baking dish.   Position the rack in the center of the oven.
6. Strain the pasta and put it back into the pot.   Combine it to the vegetable mix.  Finally, pour and combine the cheese sauce as well.
7. Transfer the whole preparation into the pan and cover with a parchment paper along with an aluminium foil (this prevents from losing valuable cheese).
8. Bake for an initial 15 minutes before uncovering. Afterwards, bake for an extra 15 minutes until bubbling and the top has lightly browned.  Once the dish is out of the oven, let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving.  Buon appetito.

Stuffed pasta SHELLS 
with a vegetable cheese mix
and a rosé tomato sauce

serves 6 entrées (4 meals)

(American / Metric measures)

. 1/2 lb. (225g) uncooked pasta shells {about 30 medium size}
. 1 tsp. (5ml) sea salt
. 3 cups (750ml) of cooked vegetable mix *
. 1 cup (80g) cheese mix, grated, packed: 
Parmesan, Romano, aged Cheddar, Friulano (or other mild cheese of choice)
. generous handful - crushed, roasted almonds (optional)
. 1 small can (398ml) Italian tomato, crushed
. 1 small can (370ml) 2% evaporated milk  
. 3 Tbsps. (45ml) e.v.Olive oil
. 3 Tbsps. (45ml) fortified Sherry
. generous sprinkle of both sea salt, granulated garlic powder
. 1/4 tsp. (1.75ml) each of dried Basil, Marjoram and Sage
. about 14 Broccoli florets, frozen or fresh

* Vegetable mix suggestion: 
About 6 cups (1.5L) worth of uncooked vegetables. A little dose of heated oil and butter.  Caramelize a large onion with a few small garlic cloves. Red peppers, cremini mushrooms and chopped bok choy get added to the mix.  All capped with a generous splash of fortified Sherry wine.

1. Prepare a vegetable mix of choice or follow the suggested example.  Make ahead if desired.
2.  In a large pot filled with water, add the salt as it starts boiling.  Cook the shells to the 'Al dente' stage, about 10 minutes or so.  Pour them into a colander and rinse them immediately with cold water.  Set aside.

. Pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C/Gas4.
. Position the rack on the second level from the bottom of the oven.
3. In a large [(9-x-13-inch) /3 Litre] deep baking pan, start cooking the sauce.  Add the tomato, milk, oil, Sherry and seasonings.  Give them a stir.  Place the pan into the oven to cook for about 15 minutes.
4. MEANWHILE...prepare to mix the vegetable mix with the cheese and roasted nuts.  
5. Stuff each shell and temporarily place them onto a tray.
6. Once the tomato has passed its initial cook time, remove the pan from the oven and snuggle in the stuffed shells side by side.  Continue by adding the broccoli florets on the sides.
7. Cover the pan tightly with an aluminium foil and bake initially for 20 minutes and then uncovered for the last 15 minutes.  Serve immediately and buon appetito.

Let your imagination go wild and may these recipes lead the way to more guilty pleasures.

Now, it's time to seek out my next Sugar Shack ‘Cabane à Sucre’ outing.  Yes, even more guilty pleasures on the way.  

Have a great week everyone.
Flavourful wishes,

Comments ... ??? ... or suggestions ... write me :o)
Claudia at:  foodessa [at] gmail [dot] com

Go HERE for more SAVOURY creations.

Please take note on how I bake and cook...
Here’s a 101 of sorts to make sure that there are no disappointments when trying my creations.  
Also...just so you know...feel free to increase the salt and sweet factor since I'm not high on either of them ;o)

. Use DRY cup measurements for...you guessed it...all DRY ingredients.
Anything DRY gets measured by spooning the overfilled ingredient (never shake the cup) and then level off with a flat edged tool.  Exception...Brown sugar should be packed in and leveled.
. Use LIQUID cup measurements for...all LIQUIDS that cannot be leveled like for example butter, yogurt...etc.  Measure the liquids at eye level to avoid overdoing what the recipe truly needs.
OVENS are unfortunately not created equal.  Mine is so old that it has reached many degrees off it's norm.  It's really worth investing a few dollars to test yours with an appropriate oven thermometer.  You'd be surprised how many ovens I've heard about not being where they should have been.  Before you lose any more ingredients and much time preparing a new recipe...run to the store...you'll thank me later. 

Here’s more Pasta related recipes that may be of interest:
- Pasta Miss ALFREDO with no cream
- Pasta Sausage Limoncello CARBONARA