Stuffed Shells Recipe
Wayne loves stuffed shells - straight up, red sauced, ricotta-stuffed snails of baked deliciousness. It has been a while. And, so, that's what I made after I went by the old apartment this afternoon. By myself, one last time. I said good-bye to the park in the front, and the big trees in the back. I think I'd have a harder time leaving, but we still have friends on the block, and I suspect it'll be no big deal to swing by and hang out on the steps on nice days. Up the street, the mountain of cardboard boxes is gone. That, and getting dinner on the table the first night in, felt great.
Before I dive into the specifics related to dinner, I thought I'd share some snapshots I took in the new place the first afternoon. A few of the little details I crushed on hard when I first walked in. The apartment is old, pre-earthquake, but beautifully restored. I love the antique built-in mirrors, the miles of molding, and the etched glass above each doorway. The details are so interesting that I find myself wanting to keep some of the spaces nearly empty, to let the building just be. We'll see...
Dinner. I admit, stuffed shells are a bit of a cheat for a first-night meal. I mean, I did all the prep ahead of time, and then drove the shells up the street in the backseat of the car. But, man, did they hit the spot after an incredibly long day. And it was no big deal to make them. Even though most of the kitchen was packed up, I made a quick pot of my favorite tomato sauce a couple days out. The day prior to the move, I made the ricotta filling, stuffed the shells and arranged them in a big baking dish. All I had to do is get them to the new apartment without dropping them, and wash a mixing bowl and spoon.
Before I let you loose with the recipe, a few notes. I do these shells with lemon zest in the filling and in the sauce. Not typical, but really tasty. I also love the pop of heat you get from the red pepper flakes in the sauce. I baked this batch of shells family-style, in one big pan. But, you can bake individual portions in ramekins, gratin dishes, or Staubs, if you like. Play around with the ricotta filling too - sometimes I add chopped olives, or chopped spinach, herbs, roasted seasonal vegetables, etc.
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Stuffed Shells Recipe
As I mention up above, you can make the components for this a couple days ahead of time if needed - i.e. sauce, filling. Also, you won't be able to fit 25-30 shells in your pan, but a few are always casualties of the boil, so I call for more than you'll likely need.
zest of one lemon
1/3 cup / 80 ml extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
scant 3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
4 medium cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 28-ounce can crushed red tomatoes
1 14-ounce can crushed red tomatoes
1 15-ounce container ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 cup / ~5 oz grated mozzarella
1 bunch of chives, minced
25-30 jumbo dried pasta shells
Oil a 13 x 9-inch / 33 x 23-cm baking pan, or equivalent, and sprinkle the zest of 1/2 the lemon across it. Set aside. Get a big pot of water boiling, and preheat your oven to 350F / 180C with a rack in the middle.
To make the sauce, combine the olive oil, red pepper flakes, sea salt, and garlic in a cold saucepan. Stir while you heat the saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute just 45 seconds or so until everything is fragrant - you don't want the garlic to brown. Now stir in the tomatoes and heat to a gentle simmer, just a minute or two. Remove from heat and carefully take a taste (you don't want to burn your tongue)...If the sauce needs more salt add it now. Let cool.
To make the filling, combine the ricotta, egg, and salt in a medium bowl. Mix until combined, then stir in the mozzarella, remaining lemon zest, and 3/4 of the chives. Set aside.
Cook the shells according to package instructions in well-salted water - until al dente. If you overcook, the shells will tear as you attempt to fill them. Drain and let cool long enough to handle with your hands - see photo.
Spread 1/3 of sauce across the bottom of the prepared pan. Fill each shell with ricotta, and arrange in a single layer in the pan. Ladle the remaining sauce over the shells, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, uncover for the final 15 minutes or until the shells are cooked through. Sprinkle with the remaining chives and serve hot.
Serves 4 - 6.
Prep time: 30 min - Cook time: 45 min