Creamy Italian Shells

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This is probably one of my wife's favorite meals, and we have it 2 or 3 times a month. I have to admit, I am not the original creator of this recipe concept, but it's so simple that I feel that I can post it here. (I also make a couple changes, enough that I think I can call it my own.)

The story goes that my wife wanted something for dinner, but wasn't really sure what. I went through my kitchen, and came up with this:

We have had it before, and really enjoyed it, so I thought, here goes. I looked on the package for the directions, and my eye fell on the recipe printed on the back for “Creamy Garlic and Roasted Pepper Pasta.” It had garlic, red bells peppers, and chicken. Sounds good, yes, but my wife was anti-chicken at the time. The idea sounded good though, so I went through my fridge and came up with a bell pepper (purchased for cheese steaks), and some mushrooms (about 6) nearing the end of their life.
 I diced the half the pepper and tossed them into a skillet with a little oil and a pinch of salt, then turned my attention to the mushrooms. From those I removed the stems (which are really woody), and cut the caps into little wedges. Once they were all dispatched they too went into the pan. When the mushrooms were done I took the pan off the heat and turned my attention to the pasta.

The directions on the package call for bringing to a boil 1-2/3 cup water, ½ cup milk, and 1 Tbsp butter in a saucepan. You then add the contents of the package and cook until the pasta is done, about 11 minutes (according to the package). I was about to embark on the journey of pasta preparation when I had a thought: what about leftovers?
Maybe I am a fatty, but I could eat most of one of these packages myself. The added veggies would help, but not enough that it would feed two hungry adults while leaving a little left over for lunch the next day. A quick perusal of my cupboards yielded the answer: Orzo pasta.
 Orzo is a rice-shaped pasta, which the package says cooks in 9-11 minutes, which was perfect for my needs. Of course, I would need to increase the amount of liquid to account for the additional pasta, but not a problem.

So, into the saucepan went the 1-2/3 cup water, 1 Tbsp butter, and a full cup of milk. When it came to a boil I added the contents of the creamy shells package and about ½ to 2/3 cup orzo (actually, it’s a palm-ful, but palms are not one-size-fits-all). I set the timer for 11 minutes, and sat down to wait.

During my wait, I thought about dinner a little more. I really liked the flavor of the dish the times I had had it in the past, and I wanted to keep that flavor level in tonight’s version. Problem was, I added more pasta and milk than is called for, which would dilute my sauce. I needed to boost the flavor of the sauce while keeping in the theme. A final search through the kitchen provided me with the final pieces of my culinary puzzle:
 Parmesan cheese and Parmesan-garlic seasoning (from Pampered Chef, it was a gift). I had good timing too, because the timer started its boisterous beeping by the time my search was over. Just to make sure, I tasted the cooked pasta, and sure enough it needed bolstering. So I added some cheese and seasoning (I have no idea how much, so I will say “to taste”) as well as a pinch of salt. Stir, stir, stir it all together, and then finally I added the sautéed mushrooms and peppers.
I have to confess; it looked tasty and smelled delicious.
It tasted even better.

It even left us with some for Samantha to take to lunch the next day. All in all, it was a great success.

Creamy Italian Shells
1 pkg Creamy Garlic Shells (Knorr’s Pasta Sides, $1.00 at Wal-mart)
½ cup Orzo pasta ($1.08 for the whole box at Wal-mart)
1-2/3 cup water
1 cup milk
1 Tbsp butter or margarine
½ red bell pepper, diced
6-8 button mushrooms, stems removed, and cut into wedges
Parmesan cheese
Parmesan-garlic seasoning (Pampered Chef)

In a medium saucepan, bring water, milk, and butter to a boil. Add contents of Creamy Garlic Shells package and Orzo pasta. Stir and set timer for 11 minutes, stirring occasionally. While the pasta is cooking, sauté bell pepper and mushrooms in a little oil with a pinch of salt until mushrooms turn a deep golden brown and peppers are slightly soft. When the pasta is done, add Parmesan and seasoning to pasta to taste. Stir in sautéed vegetables. Serve warm.

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