Creamy, cheesy, a bit of a kick from the chile peppers all smothering the pasta shells. Reminiscent of a mac n’ cheese but all sassed up with nutritious ingredients you wouldn’t even realize were in there. Yep, this is no average pasta dish that you could find on an Olive Garden menu. Oh no, there’s a special ingredient that you may not expect…
You may be like huh, but just go for it! It’s so yummy. Not only does it add-in an extra layer of flavor & nutrition, but it also helps make this dish extra creamy. It pairs nicely with the mild havarti cheese & the sweetness is balanced from the spicy chile kick. Whole grain, antioxidants from the chiles, vitamin A & potassium from the sweet potato, its a winner all the way around! This is such a fun dish to bring to potlucks, for parties, or just to chow on all week. Heck yeah!
Making the Dish
Sweet Potatoes & Chiles: The first step in making the cheesy chile pasta shells is roasting two of the essential ingredients: Poblano peppers & sweet potatoes. As we know, baking potatoes can take awhile & we don’t have all day. So, I like to cut my sweet potatoes into quarters placing them cut side down onto a lightly oiled sheet along with the poblanos. Cutting them into this size speeds up the baking process & allows for the same roasting time as the poblanos so they can be pulled out of the oven at the same time. The poblanos will need to be flipped halfway through roasting so the charring & blistering is even throughout the pepper. The blistering makes for easier peeling. You want the sweet potatoes to be nice & soft when squeezed for mashing & mixing into the sauce. When mashing, hold the sweet potato with the skin side in your hand & squeeze. The skin will separate from the middle & you can throw the skins away.
The Sauce: This is the trickiest part of the recipe because of having to continually stir & watch for the right thickness. Start off by sautéing onion & garlic until opaque in color & your kitchen smells garlic. From here, the flour is sprinkled evenly over the onions & garlic followed by a small amount of milk. It’s important to slowly add in the milk letting the liquid thicken in between pours or else it won’t thicken. Stir continually to avoid clumping. I like to add the milk in by about 1/4 cup increments. This amount allows the mixture to thicken just enough between pours without becoming too liquidy & losing the thickness. Once all the milk is added in, it should be the consistency of a thicker style gravy. The same process is repeated when pouring in the chicken broth. The liquid will lose some of the thickeness but that’s ok because the mashed sweet potato will re-thicken it.
pasta: Ok, so we have our peppers, sweet potatoes, the sauce base, & let’s not forget the pasta. I like to double task & boil the pasta while babysitting the sauce. The pasta will be boiled until tender but a bit chewy still. This typically takes about 8-10 minutes. The shells will finish cooking becoming fully tender during the baking time in the oven with the sauce. Finishing the cooking of the pasta with the sauce in the oven allows some of the flavors to be absorbed into the pasta for max flavor.
Bringing it together: This is the best part when all the flavors come together & fill the nooks of the shells. The mashed sweet potato is added to the milk/chicken broth mixture & stir until smooth & creamy. Once the sweet potato is evenly incorporated, go ahead & dump in all the other ingredients. Spices, pasta shells, grated havarti cheese all stirred together until the cheese is melted, evenly distributed, & strings a bit when the spoon is lifted up. Cheesy cheesy! Top it all off with a sprinkle of whole grain breadcrumbs for a little texture & this baby is ready to hang out in the oven.
Check out this blog post to see where to get the best breadcrumbs for free!
Cheesy Chile Pepper Shells
- 10 oz. whole wheat pasta shells
- 1 1/2 pounds sweet potato
- 2 lg. poblano peppers
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 Tbsp. flour
- 1 1/2 cup milk
- 1 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 1/2 tsp. mustard powder
- 1 1/2 tsp. chile árbol
- 6 ounces havarti cheese (grated)
- 1/2 cup whole-grain breadcrumbs
- salt to taste
- Preheat oven to 450F.
- Cut sweet potatos into quarters & set on sheet pan skin side up. Place poblano peppers on same pan & roast in oven for 25-30 minutes flipping peppers after 15 minutes.
- While peppers & sweet potatoes roast, preheat a large skillet over medium heat. Chop the onion & mince the garlic. Drizzle olive oil in skillet & saute the onion for about 10 minutes until opaque in color. Add in the garlic & continue sautéing until very aromatic about 3 more minutes. Turn stovetop down a notch to medium-low.
- Remove sweet potatoes & peppers from oven & set aside to cool. Sweet potato should be soft when squeeze & peppers will be charred on all sides. Turn oven down to 375F.
- In the skillet, sprinkle the flour over the onion & garlic. Slowly add the milk in 1/4cup increments. Stir continually to avoid flour from clumping. Wait for liquid to thicken in-between each pour over a low simmer. Once all the milk is incorporated, it should be the consistency of a thick gravy.
- Repeat this process with the chicken broth. When chicken broth is incorporated it will be a looser gravy consistency. Remove from heat.
- While chicken broth is being added, boil pasta shells until al dente. About 8-10 minutes. Drain liquid & set aside.
- Mash your sweet potatoes, peel, & chop poblano peppers. Add into skillet with spices & stir until smooth. Stir in pasta shells. Add in shredded havarti cheese & stir in until melty & cheese strings as you lift up your spoon.
- Evenly spread pasta throughout skillet & top with the breadcrumbs.
- Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes until bubbly on the sides & breadcrumbs are browned. Remove from oven & let sit 5-10 minutes before enjoying.