This dish is the epitome of comfort food. Delicious baked shells bathed in a warm three cheese cream sauce, with a slight hint of bacon, finished with a crunchy, buttery, parmesan topping? Now, that’s what I call love from the oven.
16 oz. medium sized shell pasta, cooked to al dente
6 T. bacon fat
5 T. all purpose flour
1 yellow onion, chopped
3.5 c. whole milk
1/2 c. whipping cream
1/2 c. butter (one stick), divided
2 c. parmesan cheese, grated and divided
1 c. mozzarella cheese, grated
1 c. colby jack cheese, grated
1 c. panko bread crumbs
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
And here we are again. You, me, and bacon fat. I told you most of my recipes start this way. Start by putting all of the fat into a large saucepan. If you’d rather substitute vegetable oil or butter, that will work fine, but the bacon flavor really adds so much to this particular dish.
Once the fat is melted, add your onion and sauté on medium/high heat until onion starts to brown. It will seem like a lot of fat, but that’s intentional.
Add your flour to the pot and stir to combine. It will look a little strange, a bit like a clumpy mess, but trust me on this one. Stir until all of the flour is absorbed into the fat and onions.
Add your milk and cream to the pot, stirring on medium heat until sauce starts to thicken. This is your bacon fat and flour at work. You’ve essentially made a roux with onions.
When the sauce has thickened, add the mozzarella, jack, and 1 c. of the parmesan cheese. Stir until they have melted.
Add nutmeg and red pepper flakes
*Note: If your sauce becomes too thick, you can simply add more milk until it reaches the consistency you want.
When cheese has melted, you’ll want to “mount” your sauce. This simply means to add butter at the end. This may seem like a needless indulgence, but it makes the sauce so velvety and silky.
Add 1/4 c. butter, and stir until melted
This is a perfect time to taste your sauce for seasoning. Make sure you have adequately salted and peppered.
Add your sauce to the cooked noodles, and stir to combine. Pour into a dish that has been greased with butter. I used a deep-sided pie dish, but a casserole dish, or standard 9×13 will work well, too.
Melt your remaining 1/4 c. butter in the microwave, and mix it with panko and remaining 1 c. parmesan. Top your pasta dish with this mixture and pat down to secure.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until pasta is bubbly and crust is golden.