Cheesy Baked Shells and Cauliflower

Ingredients:

1 T butter
2 T vegetable oil
Scant 1/4 cup flour
2 1/4 cups milk
1/4 t white pepper
2 pinches of ground nutmeg
1/2 cup shredded parmesan
1/2 cup ricotta
1 T olive oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 t pepper
1/2 t oregano
1 small head cauliflower separated into florets
1 (12 oz) package of medium pasta shells, cooked just to al dente per package directions and drained.
1 cup reserved pasta water
8 oz fresh mozzarella, rough chopped
1/2 cup shredded parmesan
1/2 cup garlic panko for topping
To serve at the table: 6 Calabrian hot peppers, chopped

Directions:

First make the béchamel:

In a pot set over medium heat, add the butter and oil. When the butter sizzles, add the flour, stirring briskly and constantly until it is fully incorporated.

Slowly add the milk, stirring as you go, breaking up any lumps.

Add the pepper and nutmeg.

Stir constantly until the béchamel thickens to the point where it coats the spoon quite well. Add the parmesan and ricotta, stir to melt, and remove from heat.

Next, make the vegetable mixture and boil the pasta:

In a large skillet set over medium heat, sauté the onion just until translucent. Add the garlic and stir for 1 minute. Add oregano and pepper, stirring well.

Meanwhile cook the shells to package direction, reserving a cup of pasta water after about 8 minutes of boiling. Drain pasta when it is just done and set aside until the veggies are ready.

Add cauliflower to the skillet and sauté on medium low for 10 minutes, or until cauliflower is tender. If your cauliflower pieces are a little large it might not be done in the time indicated. No problem. Add a tablespoon of pasta water and cover the skillet with a lid. Check every five minutes for cauliflower tenderness, add a tablespoon of pasta water if the pan goes dry before the cauliflower is tender.

Pour the béchamel onto the cauliflower and give it a stir. The consistency should be thick, but still creamy. If it appears dry, add a little of the pasta water, stirring until the mixture reaches the consistency of molten lava.

Add the cooked and drained pasta shells.

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Spray a 9×13 casserole dish with your favorite cooking spray and pour the cauliflower shell mixture in, spreading it fairly evenly.

Top with mozzarella, parmesan, and panko.

Tightly cover the pan with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the foil, raise the temperature to 425° F, and brown for an additional 10-15 minutes or until the topping is a pretty brown. The browned bits are quite prized so make sure there’s enough to go around!

Serve with the peppers (for those that love a bit of heat) and a crisp green salad.

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