If you have a saucy, cheesy craving try these Baked Shells and Cheese with a crispy panko topping. Made from scratch with REAL cheese!
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When I think of Shells and Cheese, I instantly think of those blue boxes from the grocery store that come with the “special” creamy cheese packet. I would get so excited when my mom would buy one of these boxes! Goodbye, regular Mac and Cheese! Hello Shells and Cheese!
While I still love a good ol’ meal from a box now and then, it’s much more rewarding (and tasty) to make something from scratch. I love making Mac and Cheese from scratch (it’s my favorite food!), so why not Shells and Cheese?
My absolute favorite part of baked mac and cheese is the crunchy, crispy topping that coats the cheesy, smooth noodles. To me, there is nothing better than the combination of flavors and textures. That’s why I’ve decided to make this Shells and Cheese recipe baked! A delicious, buttery, crisp topping is the only way to make shells and cheese better than it already is.
These Baked Shells and Cheese are delicious, and made FROM SCRATCH with REAL CHEESE. I spent many years working on Mac and Cheese recipes that were made from scratch, while still tasting authentic and delicious. It took a long time to find one that my family truly loved, and I’ve adapted that for this delicious recipe for Baked Shells and Cheese. I hope your family enjoys it as much as mine does!
What Do I Need to Make Baked Shells and Cheese?
- Dry Pasta Shells: I use the large size here in this recipe. You will need 1 package or about 3 cups.
- Butter: This provides part of the base of the sauce, as well as a coating for the panko breadcrumb topping.
- Flour: Just a few tablespoons to help provide thickening for the cheese sauce.
- Dry Mustard Powder: I use this in all my cheese sauces. It adds a nice yellow/orange color to your cheese sauces and ups the flavor. And no, it doesn’t taste like mustard once it’s in the sauce!
- Milk: This is an essential ingredient in the sauce, making it smooth and creamy.
- Sharp Cheddar Cheese: Buy the block rather than pre-shredded for this. Cheese sauces never seem to work out with pre-shredded cheese. Block is the way to go here.
- Seasonings: This recipe for Baked Shells and Cheese keeps it simple with seasonings. All you’ll need is salt, sugar, and black powder. It’s easy peasy.
- Panko Bread Crumbs: Panko is my favorite topping for a variety of dishes (like my Poppyseed Chicken and Rice Casserole). It just gets crispy in a way that traditional breadcrumbs don’t!
- Parmesan Cheese: Just a few tablespoons of parmesan cheese help add a depth of flavor and saltiness to the panko breadcrumb topping. The shelf-stable kind is absolutely fine here.
Baked Shells and Cheese
- 8 oz Dry Pasta Shells large, about 3 cups dry uncooked
- 1 tsp. Olive Oil
- 1 tsp. Table Salt
- 3 tbsp. Salted Butter
- 3 tbsp. All Purpose Flour
- 1 tsp. Dry Mustard Powder
- 3 cups Whole Milk
- 1/2 tsp. Table Salt
- 1/2 tsp. Sugar
- 1/4 tsp. Ground Black Pepper
- 10 oz Sharp Cheddar Cheese grated from the block
- 1/4 cup Salted Butter Melted
- 3/4 cup Panko Bread Crumbs
- 2 tbsp. Grated Parmesan Cheese
- Preheat the oven to 350F and grease a 9X13 casserole dish.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 tsp. Of salt and 1 tsp. Of olive oil. Add the pasta and stir well. Cook until al dente, about 7 minutes or according to package directions.
- Drain the pasta and add it to a large bowl. Cover the bowl with a plate to keep the pasta warm.
- Shred 8oz of the sharp cheddar cheese using the large holes of a box grater. Dice the remaining 2oz and set aside.
- In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt 3 Tbsp. Of salted butter over medium heat. Add the flour and dry mustard powder. Whisk constantly, until the mixture is just a little bubbly and starting to change color ever so slightly. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking constantly as you pour to smooth out the lumps. Keep whisking until all the milk is added and the sauce is lump free.
- Add the salt, sugar and black pepper to the sauce and whisk well.
- Simmer the sauce, whisking frequently, until it has thickened slightly, about 3-5 minutes.
- Remove the sauce from the heat and add the cheese. Whisk until all the cheese is melted and incorporated.
- Add the cheese sauce to the drained pasta and toss well to combine. Once the sauce is well distributed, add the diced cheese cubes. Toss well again. Pour the pasta shells and cheese into the greased 9X13 casserole dish.
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 1/4 cup of salted butter. Once it has just melted, add the panko bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. Stir well to combine.
- Sprinkle the panko topping over the shells and cheese, taking care to distribute it as evenly as possible.
- Bake the Shells and Cheese for 20 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.
- To crisp the topping slightly, place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes, but make sure to watch it to prevent burning!