Baked Shells and Cheese with Chicken

I had the distinct good fortune to marry into a very nice family. My husband’s brother – who is 15 years his senior – and his lovely wife have given us the distinct privilege of being Aunt and Uncle to five of the most beautiful young ladies to grace the planet. (Two of these girls, however, have had the gall to go and reproduce and make us GREAT-Aunt and GREAT-Uncle. Wow! I think that means we’re old!)

Our eldest niece, Nicole, is a teacher, wife, mother to two seriously adorable girls, and just the kind of girl you want to count among your friends. She is also a great writer – I love reading her blog – and am so thankful she takes the time to update us on the goings on of her family – so many, many miles away from us.

The next niece in line, Dawn, just recently graduated from Medical School. Shortly thereafter she and her husband packed up their lives in Arizona and made the move to Michigan – where Dawn is beginning her Medical Residency. When I was a teenager, I really wanted to grow up and be a doctor. It thrills me to no end that Dawn has followed her own dream – and made it happen! She’s not only a doctor – studying to be a general surgeon – but is also a great cook, and author of today’s recipe!

Next comes Sarah, wife, mother of adorable little girls, gifted in so many ways – you should hear this girl sing! She’s very, very beautiful, too!

Then the last two – Hannah and Megan – the teenagers. Chronologically, it goes Hannah, our Jessica, then Megan. These girls are busy, busy, busy! They are talented on many fronts, smart, and motivated. They do so much!

One of the toughest things about being Aunt and Uncle to these girls is that they are so far away from us. I HATE that our kids are

growing up only having fleeting chances to hang with these incredible cousins. I wish there were some way that we could spend all holidays together, get together for family birthdays and significant events.

So, when we got the invitation to Dawn’s graduation from Medical School John and I looked at each other and knew we HAD to make it to this event. The last time we’d all gotten together had been 7 years prior, when John’s Mom had passed away. Way, way, too long ago.

 So – mid-May we headed to Tucson to join the fam for Dawn’s graduation. Can I just interject here and say how impressed I am by the incredible job of hostessing Dawn did?! She served dinner (with several menu options) on Thursday evening. She hosted luncheon for even more family the next day, coordinated a huge family dinner following her graduation ceremony. And then planned and executed a great picnic with the family on Saturday afternoon – where everyone had an incredible time hanging out and enjoying lunch, playing games, laughing, passing babies around to hug and kiss. THIS is exactly the kind of stuff that we long to experience with this part of our family – routinely!

 ANYWAY – super long story short…  Dawn made this incredible pasta dish that the kids (okay, not just the kids!) loved – and she’s graciously consented to letting me post it here on my blog.  I hope you’ll try it – it’s really great!

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Ingredients
12 ounces Medium or large pasta shells
2 1/2 cups Heavy cream
2 cups 1% milk
2 teaspoons All-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon Salt, plus more for pasta water
1/4 teaspoon Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups Fontina, grated
3/4 cup Mozzarella, grated
3/4 cup Parmesan, finely grated
4 ounces Cooked ham or prosciutto, diced
2 tablespoons Fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
  White meat from a rotisserie chicken, shredded

 Preheat oven to 450° F.

  1. Butter a 13 x 9-inch glass baking dish and set aside.
  2. Cook the noodles in a large pot of salted boiling water, until tender, but still firm to bite, stirring frequently, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain well, but do not rinse.
  3. Whisk the cream, milk, flour, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper in a large bowl to blend. Stir in 1 cup Fontina, ½ cup Parmesan, ½ cup mozzarella, shredded chicken, and ham or prosciutto, and parsley. Add the noodles and toss to coat.
  4. Transfer the noodle mixture to the prepared baking dish.
  5. Toss the remaining 1 cup Fontina, ¼ cup Parmesan, and ¼ cup mozzarella in a small bowl to blend. Sprinkle the cheese mixture over the noodle mixture.
  6. Bake until the sauce bubbles and the cheese melts and begins to brown on top, about 20 minutes.
  7. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Notes: You may substitute turkey for the chicken in this recipe.

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