When we all lived in the same town, my adult children would gather at my house to celebrate their birthdays. Our tradition was for them to choose the main dish they wanted and I would prepare it as their birthday dinner. Invariably the choice was something Italian and most often it was stuffed shells, a delicious…but labour intensive…pasta dish, overflowing with cheeses and swimming in a rich red sauce.
I make this dish vegetarian, but you can make it with a meat sauce if you’d like.
Stuffed Pasta: Shells and Cannelloni
2 boxes large pasta shells or cannelloni, uncooked
2 qts (8 cups) Sicilian Pasta Sauce (Basic recipe)
1 quart (4 cups) ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese (Asiago or Scarmozza can be used)
1 cup each finely grated Romano and Parmesan cheese
1 large onion, finely minced
6 cloves garlic, crushed or put through garlic press
1 tbsp olive oil
½ cup finely minced fresh basil
1 tbsp dried oregano or Italian seasonings, ground to a powder
Boil pasta in salted water. Remove from heat as soon as they are flexible and plunge into cold water to stop the cooking process. If the pasta is cooked until soft, it will tear more easily while handling. Keep pasta in water to prevent sticking together.
Spray a 9” x 13” x 3” baking pan with cooking spray. It would be a good idea to use a nice pan, like a Correlle dish, as this is usually served in the same dish in which it was baked. Set oven to 350°F (180°C).
Sauté onion, garlic, and seasonings together in oil until onion is translucent. Set aside to cool a bit, then mix thoroughly with the ricotta cheese. Add egg and ½ cup each Romano and Parmesan cheese and mix thoroughly.
Ladle a half cup of sauce into bottom of pan and spread around.
Fill a pastry bag, with largest nozzle attached, with cheese mixture.
To fill shells: remove a shell from water and gently shake off excess water. Cradle shell in the palm of left hand, open side up. Insert nozzle of pastry bag into opening and squeeze gently, filling shell until a bit of the filling mounds out the opening. Gently lay shell, open side up, on the sauce in the pan and repeat until shells or filling is gone.
To fill cannelloni: remove a tube from water and gently shake off excess water. Cradle tube in the palm of left hand, one open end against the base of your thumb. Insert nozzle of pastry bag into other open end and squeeze bag gently, filling tube until a bit of the filling sticks out the opening. Gently lay tube on the sauce in the pan and repeat until tubes or filling is gone.
Once all shells/cannelloni are filled, cover with sauce and sprinkle each shell/tube with the remaining cheeses. Cover the dish with foil, tenting slightly to prevent the foil from sticking to the cheese. Bake for a minimum of 45 minutes or until the cheese in the middle is melted.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
Florentine: Thaw a packet of frozen chopped spinach. Squeeze 1 cup spinach tightly with your hands over the sink to wring out as much water as possible. Chop finely and add to ricotta mixture. Continue with recipe.
With Meat: Use the Meat version of the sauce
Photos by ninjapoodles and madaise, flickr