Super cheesy and decadently delicious, this Shells and Cheese Recipe is as much of a hit with the adults as it is the kiddos. It’s an easy, quick-fix dish that comes together in 20 minutes and always turns out perfect. Featuring a foolproof cheese sauce that never breaks, never gets grainy, and always stays smooth and creamy!
Serve this Mac and Cheese as the main event for a kid-friendly dinner or as a fan-favorite side at holidays, BBQ’s, potluck parties, and more! Need more kid-friendly pasta recipes for your dinnertime line-up? Add Fettuccini Alfredo and Hamburger Helper to the menu!
WHAT’S IN SHELLS AND CHEESE?
- Pasta Shells – Pasta shells are perfect for trapping all that cheesy goodness from your Homemade Shells and Cheese Sauce. However, if you’d like to use macaroni pasta, feel free to sub that in.
- Unsalted Butter
- All-Purpose Flour
- Heavy Whipping Cream and Half-and-Half – Heavy whipping cream and half-and-half have a high enough fat content to protect your cheese sauce from getting grainy and/or breaking. Well, this in combination with the American cheese. Do not be tempted to sub in other dairy options here.
- Cheddar Cheese – Just standard Cheddar cheese is all you need — nothing too fancy. Just grab yourself a block of Cheddar, and grate it yourself for best results.
- American Cheese – We used Kraft Singles (unwrapped, of course) for this Shells and Cheese recipe.
- Seasoning – The only seasoning you’ll need is Kosher salt, ground mustard powder, and hot sauce. The hot sauce will not make your Shells and Cheese spicy, but if you are sensitive to cayenne pepper, you can feel free to leave it out altogether.
HOW TO MAKE SHELLS AND CHEESE
- Cook the Pasta – Cook the pasta according to package instructions and set aside.
- Make the Sauce – Shells and Cheese sauce begins with a roux. To do this, melt the butter and sprinkle over the flour. Whisk the two together and allow to cook for 2 minutes, taking care not to let it brown. Slowly, add the warmed cream a splash at a time, whisking until smooth after each addition until it reaches a pudding-like consistency. Then, you can add the rest of the cream and half-and-half. Allow the mixture to simmer and thicken.
- Add the Cheese – Remove from the heat and add the cheddar a handful at a time, stirring after each addition until completely melted. Next, add the American cheese and stir until melted. Add the remaining ingredients and stir.
- Add the Sauce to the Shells – Pour cheese sauce over pasta, stir to coat, serve and enjoy!
A CHEESE SAUCE THAT WON’T BREAK OR GET GRAINY
If you’ve ever taken the time to make a homemade cheese sauce, only to have it break or turn out grainy, we feel your pain. That’s why we created this foolproof cheese sauce recipe that can be used for more than just Shells and Cheese. Oh, yes. Use it to top steamed broccoli, homemade fries, and more.
A cheese sauce that won’t break comes down to two things: Heat control and fat content. These are the reasons why this cheese sauce recipe calls for heavy cream and adding the cheese in increments and off of the heat. These two factors (with a little help from the American cheese) ensure your cheese sauce stays smooth and creamy.
If you’re interested in the science behind melting cheeses and making more cheesy sauces, FineCooking.com has a stellar article on that entitled The Science of Melting Cheese.
5 MORE DINNER IDEAS YOU’LL LOVE!
- Pizza Bagels are a fun, bite-sized treat everyone (especially the ’90s kids) look forward to eating. They’re great for entertaining, game-day snacks, and of course, they make for the ultimate kid-friendly dinner.
- Empanadas with Ham and Cheese are a freezer-friendly, make-ahead lunchbox or dinner idea for kids featuring mini baked empanadas stuffed with ham and cheese!
- Creamy Broccoli Rice Casserole gets an upgrade thanks to real Cheddar cheese! Made without the use of any processed cheese, it’s perfectly creamy, homemade Cheddar cheese sauce brings new life to an old favorite!
- Stuffed Potatoes are an easy weeknight meal featuring Russet potatoes stuffed with cubed ham, spinach, and Cheddar cheese!
- Baked Spaghetti Casserole features spaghetti noodles coated in parmesan and butter, an quick marinara meat sauce, savory cottage cheese, and a topping of stretchy mozzarella.
Super cheesy and decadently delicious, this Shells and Cheese Recipe is an easy, quick-fix dish that comes together in 20 minutes and always turns out perfect!
- 12 ounces medium-sized pasta shells
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream warmed
- 1/2 cup half and half
- 1 cup freshly grated Cheddar cheese
- 4 slices American cheese (such as Kraft Singles)
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce optional
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon dry mustard powder
- In a large pot, bring pasta water to a boil and season heavily with salt. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain well and set aside until ready to use.
In a medium-sized sauce-pan over medium heat, melt the butter and sprinkle over the flour. Whisk together and allow to cook for 2 minutes, taking care not to let it brown. Slowly, add the warmed cream a splash at time, whisking until smooth after each addition until it reaches a pudding-like consistency. At this point you may whisk in the remaining cream and half-and-half.
Raise the heat to medium-high and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and add the cheddar a handful at a time, stirring after each addition until completely melted. Next, add the American cheese and stir until melted.
Add remaining ingredients and stir. Pour cheese sauce over pasta, stir to coat, serve and enjoy.