Monday, November 24, 2008

The Family that Cooks Together....

Looks delicious, doesn't it? Not too long ago, we went to my brother's house for my niece's birthday and dinner was one of my all time favorite meals: Stuffed Shells! Luscious ricotta cheese, mozzarella, parmesan, pasta, tomato sauce...what is not to love?!
Stuffed shells are one of those meals that look terrifically complicated when done and give the impression that you spent hours in the kitchen...yet they're simple to make and so easy to change up to suit whatever mood you happen to be in that day. A basic cheese stuffed shell can be made ahead as well, so when you're ready to serve them, you just pop them in the oven and bake until all the cheesy goodness gets hot and yummy!
To make a simple ricotta filling, you'll need:
  • 1 tub (pint size) ricotta cheese (whole or skim milk)
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 cup asiago cheese, divided
  • 1/4 cup dried parsley flakes
  • salt & freshly ground white or black pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • pkg dried large pasta shells, cooked al dente and drained
  • 6 cups or more meat sauce
In a bowl, combine the ricotta cheese with 1 3/4 cups of the mozzarella, 3/4 cup parmesan, 3/4 cup asiago, and the parsley. Add a little salt and some fesh ground pepper. I like white pepper for this, as I do for cream sauces. Stir in the eggs until thoroughly combined. Place the mixture into a piping bag (the kind used for cake decorating) or a quart size zip loc bag, and snip the corner.
In your baking pan (I like to use a glass baking dish for this, sprayed with olive oil spray, but you can use a regular baking pan as well) put about a cup and a half of the meat sauce in the bottom...just enough to create a thin layer that covers the entire bottom of the dish or pan. Holding a shell in your palm, use the piping bag (or baggie) to pipe in the cheese filling. Place into the sauce and repeat until you've filled enough to fill the entire baking dish in a single layer. Add more sauce over the top of the shells, being sure to cover the pasta. Combine the remaining cheeses, and sprinkle over the top of the sauce covered shells.

At this point you can cover with both plastic wrap and foil and freeze, or you can put directly into a 375*f oven for about 35-40 min, or until heated through and the cheese on top is melted and golden. I like to put a little extra sauce on when I am plating, but you don't have to..I'm just a fan of Italian tomato sauces. Serve with a salad and your favorite bread for an easy meal that's both fun to make and delicious to eat!

And if you're curious, the salad was a simple mixture of greens (lettuce & spinach), heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella, and julienned red and orange bell peppers, dressed simply with a balsamic vinaigrette. Taste and quick, what more could you want? Enjoy!!

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