I live in the suburbs of Chicago. Which means that six months out of the year it is friggin’ freezing. I mean cold. If you are not from Chicago – take whatever you think is cold and multiply it by 100. That’s how cold it is here.
People from Alaska and other “upper regions” do not need to comment. You are a special breed of superhuman to live in weather like this full time.
Cold weather calls for comfort food. One of my family’s favorite “comfort foods” is a tray of stuffed shells. They are cheesy; just a little spicy; and flavorful. The best part? You don’t even need to serve them on a plate. Just leave that steamy tray of cheesy deliciousness on the kitchen island with a bunch of plastic forks and let your loved ones go nuts.
A dear friend – who also happens to be a doctor – is always asking me for my stuffed shell recipe. Needing new content for the blog – and wanting to have the recipe available to the good doctor when the whim for mozzarella ricotta laden pasta strikes her – here is the recipe for “Anna’s Stuffed Shells.”
- 16 oz of Italian Sausage
- 8 oz of Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
- 32 oz of Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese (Don’t you dare buy low fat. Gross.)
- 12 oz of Jumbo Conchiglie Pasta Shells
- 24 oz Jar of Rao’s Homemade Pasta Sauce Marinara (Always buy Rao’s if you are buying jarred pasta sauce. Jeff is horrified that I am even promoting sauce that is not homemade – being Italian and all. However, I am Irish and am very comfortable with Rao’s. Nothing is as good as homemade – but Rao’s comes pretty close.)
- 1 Large Egg
- 2 cups Parmesan and Romano Cheese
- 1/2 cup Flat Italian Parsley
- 1 Small Yellow Onion
- 4 Cloves of Garlic
- Olive Oil
- Salt and Pepper to taste
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Fill a large pot with water. Add plenty of salt and a dash of olive oil. Bring the water, salt, olive oil mixture to a rolling boil. Put the Jumbo Conchiglie Pasta Shells into the boiling water. Boil until al dente. Strain the pasta – drench in olive oil.
Cooking Tip: Instead of dumping the pasta water out – consider keeping it and cooking with it later. Pasta water is delicious – salty and golden. It can be a great base to a lot of meals that call for water. Just freeze it until you have a recipe that calls for a water base – then experiment and enjoy!
While the pasta is cooking, take a large pan and add a splash of olive oil over medium high heat. Wait till the pan is searing hot and olive oil is crackling. Dice the onion and mince the garlic. Add to pan. Allow the onion and garlic to become golden and fragrant. Add sausage. Do not be tempted to sauté the meat too soon. Allow each side to form a lovely crust. Crust does not mean “burnt.” Crust means the meat develops a caramelized dark brown color. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chop and add the parsley. Strain the meat so all of the extra oil and fat drip out. Feel free to press the meat with paper towel to remove any extra grease (you want a little grease – but not a ton).
Cooking Tip: Always taste your food at every stage (this does not mean eat raw meat). “Salt and pepper” to taste means tasting your food for flavor and then adding seasoning accordingly. In our house, we like big bold flavors. We never skimp on the salt or the pepper!
Pour cooked meat into a large bowl and grab a sturdy wooden spoon. Add ricotta, parmesan and Romano cheeses. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix and taste. If you have made it correctly – you will have a difficult time not tasting. In fact you may eat most of the pasta filling before it hits the shells. Feel free to grab a shell and dip it into the pasta filling. Amazing. Add the egg (which is a binder for the shell filling) and mix in until completely blended.
Take the Rao’s Marinara Sauce and pour into oven safe cooking tray. Take a pasta shell and regular soup spoon and scoop the filling into the shell. Nestle the stuffed shell into the pasta sauce. Repeat until the tray is full and snug with shells. Take the mozzarella cheese and spread over the top of the shells. Put into oven and bake until top of cheese is golden brown – approximately 30 minutes.
Once shells are golden brown – pull from oven and set to cool. Or, you can be like my family and descend upon them like ravenous beasts and eat right from the tray – cheese oozing – sauce bubbling – and people saying in between bites “This is so good!”