These unstuffed shells casserole is the best creamy and easy pasta bake recipe. A scrumptious pasta packed with sauteed mushrooms, peas, bechamel sauce, ham, and smoked scamorza cheese.
Why you'll love it
- Great make-ahead recipe;
- Creamy, and cheesy pasta bake;
- Perfect to feed a crowd;
Back in Italy, baked pasta is the meal of every Sunday lunch. No matter if we are talking about a lasagna, such as this delicious butternut squash lasagna, or this unstuffed shells casserole. As we are approaching springtime I want to share an easy pasta bake recipe that allows you to spend more time with your family instead of staying all morning on the stove (eg. like me). Besides, if you like things organized this can be prepared ahead, or it can simply be frozen.
What I love about this unstuffed shells casserole is that it is all mixed without the fuss to spend more time filling each shell. This means more free time for you, but without losing any flavor. The final result is incredible, a beautiful layer of shell pasta with crispy tips and melted browned smoked scamorza cheese. The taste is insanely good, delicate, sweet, and smokey.
Now imagines that the pasta shell is pulled with a spoon and you see the cheese stretch and gaze at you longingly. I am sure you are drooling now!
INGREDIENTS NEEDED FOR THIS EASY PASTA BAKE RECIPE
Pasta- for this recipe use the pasta shell called Conchiglioni, which in Italian means big shells.
Cheeses- smoked scamorza cheese not only tastes amazing but melts perfectly creating a gooey effect. While the Parmigiano Reggiano is added into the bechamel sauce to elevate the flavor and it is also sprinkled on top of the pasta.
Butter- use it to prepare the bechamel sauce.
Flour- plain flour (all-purpose flour) is added to the melted butter to thicken up the bechamel sauce.
Milk- use whole milk, it provided richness to the bechamel sauce.
Seasoning- use garlic, thyme, nutmeg, salt, and ground peppercorns.
Oil- use extra virgin olive oil. It gives a better flavor to the dish.
Mushrooms- use chestnut brown mushrooms chopped.
Peas- use fresh peas or frozen ones. No need to boil them, just add them to the sauteed mushrooms for a few minutes.
Wine- to deglaze the sauteed mushrooms and peas use white dry wine.
Ham- chopped and added into the mix in the final stage.
STEP BY STEP INSTRUCTION*
*Note: this is just a quick introduction. Please read the recipe card for the full instructions.
To create these baked unstuffed shells casserole you will need to cook the pasta, make the bechamel sauce, and sauteed mushrooms and peas. To reduce the cooking times, the bechamel sauce and sauteed mushrooms with peas are prepared at the same time, however, the step-by-step instruction is divided into three stages to make it easier to read.
Add the butter to a medium saucepan* and cook on low heat until it melts completely. Add the flour in one shot into the melted butter. Stir with a wooden spoon until turn golden on low heat. Now add the Parmigiano Reggiano and keep stirring for a minute.
*Tip: choose a saucepan with a higher base. This will prevent the sauce from burning quickly.
Add the milk, salt, and grated nutmeg into the saucepan. Stir with a balloon whisk and let it cook on low heat until the sauce thickens up*.
*Tip: the bechamel sauce is ready when it sticks to the back of a wooden spoon.
Sauteed mushrooms with peas
Place the garlic, olive oil, and thyme into a frying pan and cook on medium heat until the garlic is golden. Add the sliced mushrooms and the ground peppercorns, let them brown, and stir occasionally. Now remove the garlic and the thyme and add the peas and salt into the frying pan. Stir and let it cook for a few minutes at medium heat. Pour the white wine and let evaporate the alcohol. Cook for a further few minutes and set it aside once cooked.
Cook and assemble the pasta
Bring a large stockpot with water to boil on high heat. Add the coarse salt and the pasta, let it cook for 9 minutes*. Drain the pasta and set it aside.
*Note: this is just a pre-cooking stage. We aim to undercook it as it will finish cooking in the oven.
Spread a few spoons of bechamel sauce into the base of the casserole. Into a large bowl add the bechamel sauce, the mushroom with the peas, the ham, part of the scamorza cheese, and the shell pasta. Mix until combined. Now add all the condiments into the casserole, sprinkle over the Parmigiano Reggiano and the rest of the scamorza cheese. Then bake the creamy pasta in a preheated oven for 35 minutes.
Pasta- the shell pasta is widely available and it comes in different sizes. The one I used is from Waitrose but can be found in any Italian deli or online. It can be replaced with any other pasta such as penne rigate or tortiglioni rigati. However, the pre-cooking stage is different, I recommend cooking the short pasta for 7 minutes.
Veggies- here you can use any kind of mushroom you fancy. Also, you can replace the veggies with any kind of seasonal veggies you have in your fridge. Just use your imagination.
Cheese- in this recipe, the smoked scamorza cheese adds a nice background flavor to this creamy and easy pasta bake. It can be replaced by mozzarella or taleggio cheese.
Ham- if you like to go for a vegetarian dish the ham can be left out. You can also use instead of ham, any kind of salami, speak, or prosciutto crudo. Furthermore, you can add chopped sausages instead of ham. Let them cook with the mushrooms and peas.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How to store this creamy pasta bake?
Store the leftover in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Can I make this recipe ahead?
Yes, of course. Simply follow all the instructions until the assembling step. Then store the casserole covered with a cling film in the fridge once is cooled off and the next day bake it as the recipe says.
Can you freeze unstuffed shells casserole?
Yes, of course. I recommend freezing the leftover pasta in a container with a lid for up to 1 month. Also, you can freeze the whole uncooked casserole, just cover it with some cling film for up to 1 month. Make sure that your baking dish is freezer resistant. When need it, remove it from the freezer and let it defrost in the fridge for at least 12 hours.
How to reheat the baked pasta?
Reheat the baked pasta covered in aluminum foil in a preheated oven. Bake at 190°C fans, 5 gas mark, or 200°C convection oven for 20 minutes or until is hot.
Can I turn this recipe into stuffed shell pasta?
Yes of course. I advise you to spread a few spoons of bechamel sauce on the bottom of the casserole. Fill each pasta shell with the mix and add the remains over the pasta.
MORE ITALIAN RECIPES YOU WILL LOVE
- Stuffed Italian meatballs with cheese and mortadella salami.
- Autentich amatriciana pasta.
- Learn to make pasta with a rolling pin.
- Healthy Tuscan beans soup.
Unstuffed shells casserole recipe
- 1 Chopping board
- 1 Knife for vegetables
- 1 Medium saucepan
- 1 Wooden spoon
- 1 Balloon whisk
- 1 Medium frying pan
- 1 Casserole
- 1 Large bowl
- 1 Stockpot
- 80 gr unsalted butter
- 65 gr plain flour
- 40 gr grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 2 pinch nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon Maldon salt
- 640 gr whole milk cold from the fridge
Sauteed mushrooms and peas
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 bunch of thyme
- 2 tablespoon olive oil extra virgin
- 380 gr brown chestnut mushrooms washed
- 260 gr peas raw
- ½ teaspoon Maldon salt
- 1 pinch ground black pepper
- 102 gr white dry wine
- 300 gr shells pasta
- 1 handful coarse salt
- 120 gr cooked ham
- 10 gr grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 250 gr smoked scamorza cheese
Preheat the oven
- Preheat the oven at 190°C fans, 5 gas mark, or 200°C convection.
- Add the chopped butter to a medium saucepan and cook on low heat until it melts completely. Choose a saucepan with a higher base. This will prevent the sauce from burning quickly.
- Add the flour in one shot into the melted butter. Stir with a wooden spoon until turn golden on low heat for about 5 minutes. Now add the Parmigiano Reggiano and keep stirring for 1 minute at low heat.
- Add the milk, salt, and grated nutmeg into the saucepan in one shot. Stir with a balloon whisk and let it cook on low heat until the sauce thickens up. The bechamel sauce is ready when it sticks to the back of a wooden spoon.
Sauteed mushrooms and peas
- Place the garlic, olive oil, and thyme into a frying pan and cook on medium heat until the garlic is golden but not burned.
- Slice the mushrooms and add them with the ground peppercorns into the frying pan. Let them brown for 20 minutes and stir occasionally.
- Now remove the garlic and the thyme and add the peas and salt into the frying pan. Stir and let it cook for 5 minutes at medium heat. Pour the white wine and turn the heat to high. Let evaporate the alcohol and cook for a further 3 minutes. Set it aside once cooked.
Cook and assemble the pasta
- Bring a large stockpot with plenty of water to boil on high heat. Add the coarse salt and the pasta, let it cook for 9 minutes. This is just a pre-cooking stage. We aim to undercook it as it will finish cooking in the oven. Drain the pasta and set it aside.
- Chop the ham finely and cut the smoked scamorza cheese into cubes and spread a few spoons of bechamel sauce into the base of the casserole. Add the bechamel sauce, the mushroom with the peas, the ham, 200 gr of scamorza cheese, and the shell pasta into a large bowl. Mix until combined.
- Now add all the condiments into the casserole, sprinkle over the Parmigiano Reggiano and the rest of the scamorza cheese. Then bake the creamy pasta in a preheated oven for 35 minutes. Serve immediately.