Thursday, March 3, 2011

Spring Shells and Cheese

So this recipe was neither quick nor easy. The prep, took a really long time, but you know what?! The end product is really good. So I would save this for maybe a weekend dinner that you have time to stand in the kitchen for a couple of hours! This is a healthier and jazzed up version of your mac-n-cheese. Healthier in the sense that you have fresh herbs, spinach and fresh cheese...rather then that pre-packaged stuff.

2 pounds medium zucchini
Kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
6 cups whole milk
4 sprigs fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 pound medium pasta shells
4 shallots, minced
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
4 ounces parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
4 ounces gruyere cheese, grated (about 1 1/4 cups)
4 ounces baby spinach

Grate the zucchini into a colander using the large holes of a box grater. Toss with 1tablespoon salt, then place in the sink to drain, about 15 minutes. Squeeze out the excess liquid.
Meanwhile, melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, nutmeg, cayenne, 2 teaspoons salt, and black pepper to taste and mix with a wooden spoon to make a paste. Cook, stirring, until the paste puffs slightly, about 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk, then add the thyme, bay leaves and lemon zest and bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce the heat and simmer until thickened slightly, about 25 minutes. Strain into a bowl; discard the herbs.
Meanwhile, position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain and add to the sauce.
Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring, until almost tender, about 4 minutes. Add the zucchini mixture to the pasta along with the egg yolks and all but 3 tablespoons of both cheeses; stir to combine, then add the spinach.
Transfer the mixture to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and sprinkle with the reserved cheeses. Bake until browned on top and heated through, 25 to 30 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

**Randi's Side Notes""
~ Make sure you squeeze ALL the liquid out of the zucchini, it can really make the leftovers soggy!!
~ This makes a freakin boat load so if you aren't planning on having this for many many meals, or making it for a lot of people, I would at least half the recipe. Sam and I at it a couple of times and I took some to work and 4 of my co-workers had some to.

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