Macaroni and Cheese Shepherd's Pie
One of our friends recently had surgery, which was supposed to keep her off of her feet for a few weeks and doing minimal activities. So, a week into her recovery I decided to make a meal for her family, which I had done once before for non-medical reasons. I knew they liked this dish, and even though it is better for colder weather, I figured her boys would jump right in and enjoy. It is an adaptation of a recipe from my favorite cookbook: "Dinosaur Bar B Que, An American Roadhouse Cookbook". As is my usual style with virtually any recipe, I modified it to fit some of the ingredients I had on hand along with some other additions that I thought would enhance the dish.
There are three main preparation components to this dish: pasta shells, a very tasty meat layer, and a cheesy vegetable roue, which ultimately gets combined with the pasta shells. I have made this dish seven times over the past four years, so I really do swear by its flavor. But an advance warning, it is not a low calorie dish. But maybe that is what makes it so good!!!
serves 6-8, ...or two adults and two teenagers!
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 pound small pasta shells (I used wheat pasta for a nuttier taste and holds up better in the cheesy roue)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onions (sweet Vidalia or Mayan onions work best)
1 cup chopped red pepper
1 diced jalapeno pepper
5 large garlic cloves chopped, or 3 tablespoons chopped garlic from a jar
1 1/4 pounds lean ground beef (90-95% lean works best)
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 cup barbecue sauce (I used half cup Dinosaur BBQ slathering sauce and half cup KC style BBQ sauce)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 cups half-and-half
3-4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (one large package shredded cheddar works great)
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 teaspoons smooth Dijon mustard
Dash of Tabasco sauce
(Note to the reader: In the ingredients picture it looks like a whole lot more food than listed, and it was! I made a larger batch because I wanted to have some for ourselves as well.)
Add the olive oil to a large skillet, and over medium heat add half of the onions and peppers. Saute the vegetables until they are soft. That will take about 8-9 minutes. Then add the garlic and saute for another minute.
Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. For those of you who are very observant, you may have noticed that the pot I am using is exactly the same pot I used to cook the pasta shells in. Very good! Just rinse it our before starting this step.
After the butter is melted, add the rest of the onions and peppers and cook these until they are soft.
With a whisk in hand, add the flour and whisk the softened vegetables like crazy until they are well coated with the flour.
By this time you should have preheated your oven to 375 degrees. What, you have not done that already? Well, of course not, because I am now just telling you to do that. But in any case, once your oven reaches that temperature, pop the baking dish into the oven loosely covered with aluminum foil. After 20 minutes or so, remove the aluminum foil and bake for another 20 - 25 minutes. The dish is done when the cheese sauce bubbles around the edges of the baking dish.
Remove from the oven and let it rest for at least 15 minutes. This allows the dish to set up a bit and will make it much easier to spoon out.