Mac and Cheese (made with shell pasta)

This is the recipe my friends have been requesting since before I even started this blog. This is the one I turn to when I wanna overindulge.  This recipe has a way of making you feel like you just chatted with your oldest friend.  Pure comfort.  This is what I pull out of my hat when I’m feeling a celebration or my mood is just too happy for words to express…..  I’d much rather let my mac and cheese tap dance for me, and it does.

Through a friend, I was invited to an intimate dinner for a party of 7 at a strangers house, who happened to be a famous guitar player from one of my favorite bands as a teen.  I had no idea what was being prepared for the gathering, but I didn’t want to show up empty handed.  I know I could have easily picked up a bottle of wine, but I wanted to contribute to the meal.  I settled on mac and cheese…. I thought “how can you go wrong?”  Except I had never attempted to make it before that day.  I thought it over for a couple of minutes and wondered what I could do to make it a  step above scrumptious.  I decided to spruce mine up with some honey baked ham, tomatoes, mushrooms, and gruyere cheese.  Now for the topping….  I didn’t want to use regular bread crumbs, because they sometimes tend to get soggy, and I was really shooting for crunchy.  I flirted with the idea of using crumbled potato chips, but once panko crossed my mind it was a done deal.  The rest of the recipe came together quickly, and when we all sat down for dinner that night, my mac and cheese was given so much praise…  all I could do was smile and blush.


1 1/2 – tablespoons olive oil

1 – pint cherry tomatoes (cut in half)

1 – tablespoon Lawry’s seasoning salt plus 1 teaspoon

1 – tablespoon black pepper plus 1 teaspoon

1 – pound pasta shells or macaroni (I use Barilla)

8 – ounces sliced mushrooms

2 – cups chopped ham (I use honey baked ham)

1/4 – cup chopped green onion (white part only)

1/4 – cup torn pieces of fresh basil

2 1/2 – cups shredded cheddar cheese

2 1/2 – cups shredded gruyere cheese

1 – teaspoon chili flakes

1 – stick butter plus extra to butter your baking dish.

1 – tablespoon minced garlic

1 – quart half and half

1 – tablespoon spicy brown mustard

1 – cup panko bread crumbs


Preheat oven to 370 degrees fahrenheit.

In a large pot boil some water and cook pasta according to package.  Drain and set to the side.

In a frying pan, pour in olive oil over a medium high flame and allow oil to get really hot, then toss in cherry tomatoes with 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon of black pepper.  Saute on each side for 4 minutes.  Then take off flame and set to the side.

In a big bowl combine sauteed cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, ham, green onion, fresh basil, and cooked drained pasta.  Mix until all ingredients are combined.

Next add in both the cheddar cheese and the gruyere cheese.  Mix to distribute evenly.

Transfer pasta and cheese mixture to a 9 x 13 glass buttered baking dish.  Then sprinkle seasoning over the top with 1 tablespoon Lawry’s, 1 tablespoon black pepper, and chili flakes.

Making the cream is easy.  In a big pan, over a medium flame, add butter and melt down.

Then add garlic to melted butter, along with half and half, and spicy brown mustard. Mix well and make sure to really  mix the mustard in.

Bring butter/cream mixture to a slight boil. Then pull off flame and pour into your cheese and pasta mixture.

Then sprinkle the top with panko bread crumbs. Then gently press down on the top of the bread crumbs.

Place in the oven for 50 minutes, or until golden brown.

How you choose to eat it…. is up to you. If you’re like me you will dig into it the second it is out of the oven. Expect it to fall apart with crunchy bits all around.

But if you have the patience to wait for 30 minutes while it cools down…. then it should look like this.

Photos by Nicole Presley

Where’s my fork?




1 thought on “Mac and Cheese (made with shell pasta)”

  • My boyfriend made this recipe today, it was delicious! so many flavors and crunchy =)
    We are so full now… a good dinner for a Friday.