Four-Cheese Whole-Wheat Shell Pasta with Baked Carrots & Cherry Tomatoes

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Mmmh, this one’s a winner. Fresh mozarella, gruyere, domestic parmesan, and parmigiano reggiano… cheese is a wonderful thing.

I’ll share a little secret with you: you can get anyone to like and eat carrots. It’s true, you really can! I’ve discovered a bit of a trick, and as per usual, it deals with the melding of sweet and salty. This dish is the perfect way to introduce some beta carotene into your diet through a yummy, yummy means.

When I’m cooking for more than 2-3 people I have a tendency to migrate towards pasta. It’s easily made in large quantities, is hearty (and you can use whole wheat!), keeps well for leftovers, and can be made in infinite variations. When it comes to meats, I’m too meticulous about cleaning the fat prior to cooking to really make it in bulk, so pasta is a happy alternative.

One of the best things about carrots is their meatiness. Even when cooked, carrots (particularly wide little ones like those I used) retain most of their size- which makes them perfect when cooking for people who secretly wish there were meat in the dish (the boyfriend). Here’s the trick to this dish:

  • Cook pasta as directed/to your liking (wanting to be traditionally Italian, I made mine a bit al dente)
  • Once you remove the pasta from the water and drain it, immediately pour it into a bowl with some sort of liquid (I had about a 1/4 of a cup of EVOO, some pre-grated domestic parm, and freshly-grated gruyere) and toss thoroughly. If you leave cooked pasta completely alone, it may get sticky (this happens less often with whole wheat pasta, but it’s always best to be safe and add a little moisture) Note that adding pasta water alone does not solve this, as the starch from the pasta is still floating in it- add a bit of something else as well!
  • I chopped the cherry tomatoes into thirds and tossed them in without making any changes- I personally like their texture as-is. Feel free to cook them, but don’t bake them, it’ll make a mess of your cookie sheet.
  • I added about half a container of O Organics tomato-basil pasta sauce. It’s delicious! Make sure you add this AFTER having thoroughly tossed the pasta with the cheese and oilive oil mixture. This way the cheese will fully stick to the pasta and will aid the pasta in sticking the sauce to itself, as opposed to having it swim in the sauce.

The carrots: this is so simple, yet so, so delicious! Slice the carrots in half (length-wise (see pictures below for the steps)) and arrange them as close as you can in rows in a cookie sheet (NOT a flat one without edges- make sure there’s a half-inch of depth to it at the least- a casserole or baking dish will work just as well for this). Once they’re well packed in, sprinkle on sea salt and pepper, and drizzle with EVOO. Now, take a large chunk of mozarella (I use Whole Foods low-moisture part-skim mozza loaf for this. You’ll want to experiment with different mozza’s and see what works best for you. This one is runny enough once hot to where it will well cover the carrots, but still browns very nicely.) and cut slices (about 1/8 of an inch thick) and arrange them over the carrot slices. You can leave some room in between the slices of cheese as it will expand upon melting. Then grate some gruyere onto it (you can forgo this, but to have the full four-cheese effect, go for it!) and sprinkle on some dried herbs (I chose oregano and basil). Put it in the oven for 20-25 minutes (until the mozza is browned, fully covering the carrots, and a bit bubbly- the carrots should look a little wrinkly as well) at 350 degrees.

Once the carrots are done, remove them from the oven, let cool 5 minutes, then break them apart and toss into the pasta. Grate some reggiano parm (imported) on top and you’re set! We were able to very comfortable feed five (with some taking seconds and thirds) and have enough for some leftovers as well.

Christine (one of our guests) doesn’t like carrots (or so her room-mate tells me)… but loves cheese. She enjoyed this so much that she picked all the carrot pieces left at the end and ate them :). That’s the power of this recipe! The carrots are naturally very sweet- so when coupled with a salty, nutty cheese, they become this salty-sweet delicious thing that you can’t get enough of.

Though that was a large number of steps described above, it’s a simple dish (I was able to complete both this and the dessert in an hour- and I’m slow!) which can, as well, easily be made in large batches. Try it and let me know how it works out for you!

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