Easter has always been a big deal in my family. I was raised in a Christian home where, although we did celebrate the eggs and bunny side of the holiday, my parents tried to keep our focus on the more important He Is Risen meaning. We always celebrated by attending church together and with a big family meal. Unfortunately, as the years have ticked by, Easter just never seems to be a holiday for which I can make it home. Thankfully though, I’ve found myself a great church family here in Philadelphia with which to celebrate the occasion, and a group of friends who are like family with whom I can share a holiday meal.
This year Easter weekend was the quiet escape that I’ve been waiting for to break up my normally hectic schedule. Sunday morning I attended my church’s worship service but didn’t make plans for afterwards due to a long marathon training run. I still wanted to celebrate though so Sunday evening I made a small, but still special, Easter dinner. Sure, it wasn’t the fancy dining room dinner I would have enjoyed with my parents and relatives at home, but some years a solid home cooked meal, a couch, and The Hunger Games on BlueRay with a friend is the perfect way to wrap up a beautiful Easter.
This recipe is the aboslute perfect side dish for a holiday (or an evening) when you just can’t bring yourself to mess up the kitchen. I think it’d make the perfect entrée for a busy weeknight dinner as well. A single skillet to prep, bake, and serve? Sign me up!
I adapted this recipe from my mom’s killer mac n cheese which she’s been making since I was a kid. The flavors of the broccoli, bacon and cheese meld together in perfect harmony for a dish that really pops in your mouth. If you find yourself in a big hurry, skip the bread crumbs and the baking and serve the creamy shells right from the stove top.
- 1/2 lb small pasta shells
- 1/2 lb bacon, cut into chunks
- 1/2 cup flour
- 3 cups milk, at room temperature
- 8 oz shredded cheddar
- 2 cups steamed broccoli, chopped into bite sized pieces
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- 2 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt to taste
- Cast Iron Skillet (9″ or 12″)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook until al dente. Don’t overcook the shells because they will soften up a bit more in the oven. When the pasta is done, drain it and set aside.
Meanwhile, let your cast iron skillet heat up a bit over medium high heat on the stove top. Add the bacon and cook until crispy, about 12 minutes. Add the 1/2 cup of flour and stir continuously to combine with the bacon grease and create a roux (this will be your thickening agent). Continue stirring the flour/bacon grease mixture (otherwise knows as a roux) for about 3 minutes to cook off the raw flour taste. It will turn to a nice golden brown. Add the milk all at once and whisk vigorously for another 3 minutes. Make sure all the bits from the roux melt into milk, and continue whisking until it begins thicken. Next add add the shredded cheddar cheese and stir until melted and incorporated. Now add the broccoli and the pasta and gently toss with a wooden spoon until everything is coated with that lovely cheese sauce. Give it a taste and add some salt, but only if necessary. Depending on how salty your cheese and bacon is, you may not need any.
Turn off the heat on the stove and top the shells with a 1/2 cup of bread crumbs and a couple Tbs of grated Parmesan cheese. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the top is crispy and brown. Remove the skillet from the oven and transfer it to the table to serve immediately.
My mom’s famous mac n cheese.
Because sometimes dinner should be easy.