It’s summertime! I know, it is the end of August, but here in Seattle summer just recently arrived and I fully intend to hang onto it for as long as I can.
I don’t know about you, but one of the summertime delicacies I look forward to most is homemade pesto. If the gardening gods are smiling down on me, the pesto will be made with basil harvested from my garden. If not, Trader Joe’s usually has beautiful basil plants available and I raid their shelves and stock up to make pesto for the coming year (I seriously think I need another freezer, but that’s a story for another time).
Doesn’t that look scrumptious? Yeah, I thought so, too. Which is why I decided that I’d whip up a batch of Pesto Mac and Goat Cheese. What better way to celebrate the lusciousness of summertime pesto than by marrying it with creamy goat cheese and buttery bread crumbs? Oh my. Now I’m hungry.
As I am always trying to make even the most sinful of dishes as healthy as possible (without sacrificing taste, of course!) so I chose Barilla whole grain shells. I thought about using fat-free half & half but worried that the integrity of the mac and cheese might suffer, so I ended up going with regular half & half. The irony about this recipe was that it not only calls for pesto but also fresh basil. Well, apparently I didn’t plan very well because I used all the fresh basil in my pesto and ended up using dried basil in the recipe in place of fresh basil because I ran out! I am a bonehead.
First, I minced two large cloves of garlic.
I put the minced garlic in a small bowl and added melted butter, dried basil, panko bread crumbs and some Parmesan.
Once the breadcrumb topping was made, I cooked the pasta in a large pot according to the package directions. I saved some of the pasta water for later, then drained the shells and set them aside. In a small pot, I added the half and half and simmered it gently until it reduced and thickened. Adding the reduced half and half to the pasta (larger) pot on low heat, I brought it up to a simmer and then added the goat cheese. Once the goat cheese was whisked until fully incorporated, I then added the rest of the Parmesan and whisked until the concoction was smooth and the cheese melted.
I added the pesto, reserved pasta water and spices and stirred until everything was combined. The shells were added next and again, everything got a good stir. Once the mixture was happy in the pot, I spooned it into an 8×8 baking dish sprayed with Pam and topped it with the breadcrumbs. Into the oven it went, broiling until the breadcrumbs browned nicely (keep an eye on it, it can go from “nicely browned” to “burned to a crisp” in the broiler very quickly!) and the mac and cheese bubbled. After removing the dish from the oven and cooling for five minutes, I was ready to dig in.
I have to admit, I don’t love the bowl I used to plate the mac and cheese. However, the taste more than made up for my bowl-disgruntledness.
The buttery crunch of the breadcrumbs, the creamy, subtle tang of the goat cheese, and refreshing pop of the garlic and basil; all combined to make for an amazing summertime mac and cheese. The only thing I’d change for the future is to reduce the breadcrumbs by about half – they almost overpowered the mac and cheese itself. I gave it three elbows, the hubs gave it four – so, we split the difference: three and a half elbows for this luscious recipe!
Here is my recipe, adapted from Aida Mollenkamp:
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- ¾ cup panko bread crumbs
- 1¾ cups shredded Parmesan
- 13.25 ounces whole wheat medium shells
- 2 cups half and half
- 16 ounces goat cheese
- ½ cup pesto (I used homemade, if you're nice I may release the recipe:)
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- cooking spray
- Heat oven to "Broil". Liberally Pam an 8×8 baking dish.
- In a large bowl, combine melted butter, garlic, dried basil, panko bread crumbs and ¼ cup of the Parmesan. Stir to combine and set aside.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add shells and cook according to package directions. Reserve ¼ cup of the pasta water before draining the shells.
- In a small pot over low heat, simmer the half and half until reduced and thickened, about seven minutes.
- Pour the reduced half and half into the large pot that the pasta was cooked in. Simmer on low and add the goat cheese, whisking until smooth. Add the remaining Parmesan and whisk until incorporated.
- Stir in the pesto, reserved pasta water, salt and pepper. Add the shells and stir to combine.
- Pour the mac and cheese into the Pammed baking pan and top with the breadcrumbs. Put under the broiler until the breadcrumbs are browned; about a minute (keep an eye on it!). Remove from the oven and allow to cool for five minutes.
- Serve and scarf down immediately!
Reheating note: This recipe reheats beautifully in the microwave, just add a touch of milk to it before heating.
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