We're not food snobs around these parts —Kraft mac and cheese in a box (or, let's be real, the Target brand) is a regular staple, and we always have some in the pantry. But we also acknowledge that sometimes easiest isn't always best, and when we're really craving cozy comfort food, we like to make cheesy pasta dishes from scratch. Well, okay, not the pasta itself, but the cheese part just tastes so much better when it's made with actual cheese than with powder from a packet. One of our recent cheesy pasta obsessions? This creamy baked Parmesan pasta from Giada De Laurentiis. It tastes totally gourmet, but what no one eating it would know is that it actually only takes 15 minutes of prep time to throw together.
The recipe calls for par-cooked medium shell pasta, which we love — it's one of the best shapes for scooping up creamy sauces. And the sauce itself is everything our comfort food dreams are made of. It starts by making a roux of butter and flour in a large braising dish (one that can go from stovetop to oven, like this Le Creuset dish on Amazon), then has milk and cream added. Next, grated Parmesan (two full cups of nutty, funky Parm, which adds a TON of flavor) and grated Provolone are stirred into the cream sauce until it all becomes smooth and melty.
Fold in your pasta, and some broccoli florets for a bit of green (we also think this would be great with some tomatoes stirred in for a pop of acid), then scatter a panko breadcrumb and grated Parm mixture on top.
The whole dish is placed right in the oven, where it bakes until bubbly, melted, and golden brown on top.
It's totally the type of creamy, dreamy comfort food that kids and adults will both love. The pasta and cheese sauce are familiar enough for the little ones, while the bold flavors of Parmesan and Provolone elevate the meal to the next level.
It's also a pretty flexible recipe. If shells aren't your thing, swap them out for a different pasta shape; if broccoli is a no in your household, just add another green veggie instead. You could also add chicken, sausage, or their vegetarian counterparts to add more protein.
Any way you make it, you'll have a warm and hearty dinner on the table in just over an hour, and it only takes 15 minutes of hands-on time to boot. That's a weeknight win for us.
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