You may recall that, in my last post, I made mention of being a huge fan of anything involving carbs + cheese. Stuffed shells, anyone?? I am nothing if not predictable.
Anyways, one of my dear friends just had herself a baby. He is adorable, and snuggly, and squishy… and he’s a newborn. Which means his purpose in life is to prevent his mother from eating, sleeping, showering, and generally completing any task that involves personal hygiene or maintenance. This is why babies are so damn cute – so their mothers don’t abandon them on the side of the road in favor of a hot shower and a meal that consists of something more than cold coffee and dry cereal.
I was planning a visit to mom and baby Noah, and I wanted to bring a dinner that would be tasty, filling, and easy to reheat – and I decided stuffed shells fit the bill perfectly. I didn’t feel like searching for a recipe (that I’d likely end up changing anyways), so I just… made one up. As I tend to do.
Serves 6-8, depending on how hungry you all are.
For the shells:
12 ounce box of jumbo shells (about 36 shells)
two 15 ounce containers of whole milk ricotta
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese, divided
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
For the sauce:
1 T olive oil
large yellow onion, diced
3-6 cloves of garlic, minced
28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
28 ounce can of diced tomatoes
3/4 pound meat of choice (turkey sausage, chicken sausage, pork sausage, ground turkey, ground beef, etc)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Let’s start with the sauce!
1.) Heat the olive oil in a medium to large sauce pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until it’s translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about one minute.
2.) Push the onion and garlic to the edges of the pot, and add your meat of choice to the space in the center. Break the meat up with a spoon, and cook until opaque and cooked through.
3.) Once the meat is cooked through, add both cans of tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper (two large pinches, or 1-1.5 teaspoons, of kosher salt, and about 15 grinds, or 1/2 teaspoon, of black pepper). Stir to combine everything, and bring to a simmer. Let the sauce continue to simmer while you cook the pasta and prepare the filling.
1.) Fill a large stock pot with water, and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, GENEROUSLY salt it (I generally put two handfuls of salt into my pasta water – however, it is well-documented that I have the hands of an 8-year-old child. So, my suggestion would be a large handful of salt, assuming you have adult-size hands), and then add the pasta. Stir frequently (but gently!) to keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
2.) While the pasta cooks, put together your filling. Combine ricotta, 1 cup of the grated mozzarella, grated Parmesan, eggs, salt and pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon each – the Parmesan adds a lot of salt on its own).
3.) Drain the pasta when it’s a bit short of al dente (i.e. it still has some bite to it, and feels underdone) – it will continue to cook in the oven, and you don’t want it to be mushy!
4.) My experience with cooking large pasta shells is that I lose about 1/3 of them to sticking and ripping – which would give you about 24 shells for this recipe. If you end up with more than that, I salute you (and beg you to email me your secrets. For real.) Drizzle the shells with a touch of olive oil to help with the sticking, and let them cool.
Assembling your dish!
1.) You can either use a 9×13 baking dish, or two smaller dishes. Either way, spread a layer of sauce in the bottom of the dish to start.
2.) Preheat your oven to 375°, and start assembling your shells – use a spoon to stuff them with the ricotta mixture. You want them full, but not so full that the edges of the shell won’t meet. Place the shells seam side down in the baking dish.
3.) Once you have stuffed all your shells and placed them in the dish, cover them with the rest of your sauce.
4.) Finally, spread the remaining 1 cup of grated mozzarella over the top of the dish.
5.) Bake the shells for about 30 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly! (if your cheese hasn’t browned after 30 minutes, go ahead and pop the dish under the broiler for a minute or two just to brown up the cheese!)
(I’m gonna need you to go ahead and pretend that that’s a photo of the finished product… I forgot to take a picture when the shells were finished and baked, so… use your imagination, okay? Thanks.)
This dish is a great one to make ahead – you can pop it (unbaked) into the fridge, and it’ll keep for about a week. You can also freeze it before baking; just wrap the top tightly with saran wrap, and then foil, before freezing. You can put it straight into the oven from the freezer, just add 5-10 minutes to the baking time.