Readers of this food blog, and people who I have cooked for, know I focus mainly on Italian cuisine. So, when I saw the latest "limited edition menu items" in a recent commercial, I had to admit that I wanted to try them. Then I thought about the items, and realized they're pretty close to baked ziti, and another type of baked pasta casserole, I have made in the past. In other words, I can make these new items at home, myself! While my baked ziti and baked pasta casserole use a homemade tomato based sauce, these new dishes require an Alfredo sauce.
Now, and you know I do this, putting my own spin on a recipe is usually on my mind. Olive Garden uses a "creamy seafood Alfredo sauce". Well, I know how to make Alfredo sauce, and it uses loads of Parmesan cheese. Smoked mozzarella is shredded and used as a topping. Since this item is not easily found in any local markets, and traveling an hour away to a supermarket is time consuming, regular mozzarella will do. However, I'm putting it into my sauce with the Parmesan; a rich cheesy sauce will be the result. Oh, leaving out the nutmeg as black pepper and garlic will be the main seasonings. Even though I have rigatoni in the pantry, I opted to use tortellini. Not sounding even close to Olive Garden's dish? It gets better, no spinach on hand, so using parsley instead. Bread crumbs? No thank you, a nice garlic bread on the side will do.
In essence, this is not a true copycat recipe. All I did was basically look at the photo of the dish and try to figure out what was in it. I didn't even look at the description, on the Olive Garden website, until I had completed my version. Nope, not very close indeed, but we had a great dinner though, and much cheaper than eating out at a restaurant. Basically, I was inspired to create.
With my dish, I used shrimp, but grilled chicken can be used for those who dislike shrimp. For the pasta, tubular can be rigatoni, penne or ziti; cheese filled tortellini, or tortelloni, though make a prettier presentation.
Due to the options available to make this one casserole, it will simply be called, "Baked Mozzarella Casserole".
Baked Mozzarella Casserole
1 bag (12 oz.) medium sized shrimp
1 bag (16 oz.) tortellini (frozen or dried)
1 can (15.5 oz.) diced tomatoes, rinse & thoroughly drain all excess liquid8 Tbsp. butter
8 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
6 cups hot milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. dried parsley leaves
Fill a 3 quart pot halfway with water, place on high heat. While waiting for water to boil, clean shrimp; remove shells and devein. When water begins to boil, add in tortellini and cook according to package directions. Fit a metal colander over the pot, place shrimp inside, and steam until a light pinkish coloring. Place shrimp, drained tortellini and tomatoes into large mixing bowl.
Preheat oven to 400F; spray sides and bottom of 2 quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
In another 3 quart pot, heat the butter over medium heat until melted; gradually add the flour, stirring until smooth. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture turns a golden brown color, about 6 to 7 minutes; this is the roux.
Yes! You can make the sauce, on the stove top, right next to the pot cooking the tortellini and steaming the shrimp.
Add the hot milk to the butter mixture one cup at a time; whisk continuously to avoid burning or clumping. When mixture is completely smooth, add the Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, whisk until smooth again; remove from heat; season with salt, black pepper and garlic powder.
Pour cheese sauce over contents in large bowl, mix thoroughly and spoon into baking dish and sprinkle with parsley. Place dish in oven and bake for 15-20 minutes; edges around contents, and on the top will be slightly browned, and cheese bubbling. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
|After 15-20 Minutes.|
Makes 6 servings.
In case you're wondering, I rinse and drain the tomatoes as I don't want all that red liquid to dilute the cheese sauce, or turn it red. The shrimp, parsley, and the tomatoes themselves should be the eye catchers throughout the white pasta and cheese sauce.
Now if shrimp isn't a favorite, grill up chicken breasts with a light seasoning of salt, black pepper and paprika; cut into bite sized pieces and add this instead. Or choose another pasta, but make the cheese sauce as directed, add shrimp or chicken, and bake it up.
This casserole, paired with a salad and garlic bread will make a fantastic dinner for six. With the winter holidays just around the corner, this will be a wow factor for any guests you are serving.