Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sometimes, Simpler is Better

Now that fall is quickly sliding into winter and the holiday rush is just beginning, it's time for some comfort food that everyone loves, specifically, "Stuffed Shells." Although stuffed shells are more American than Italian, it has everything you could want: pasta, cheese, and hopefully a delicious homemade tomato sauce. I've tried many recipes that include spinach, ground beef, and even sausage, but sometimes simpler is better. These shells are stuffed with a creamy filling of ricotta, Parmesan, and eggs, topped with an easy homemade marinara sauce, and sprinkled with chopped parsley and Parmesan. The result is a "lighter" version that is not forbidding or heavy, and has a burst of freshness from the homemade marinara. Not only is this recipe very satisfying, it's fast and easy! While the sauce simmers, you can make the filling, cook the shells, and stuff them all within about an hour. Then you can cover it and tuck it into the refrigerator until you're ready to bake it, even a day in advance! Serve it with a Caesar salad and garlic bread, and everyone will be happy!

Stuffed Shells with Homemade Marinara Sauce

Serves 8, and can easily be doubled for a crowd.

For the Marinara
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2, 28-ounce cans whole, peeled roma tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste

For the Stuffed Shells
1, 12-ounce box jumbo shells
2, 15-ounce containers of whole milk ricotta cheese
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Chopped Italian flat leaf parsley, for serving

For the Marinara
In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. When you smell the garlic, carefully (it usually spatters) pour in the tomatoes, juice and all, and remaining ingredients.

Break tomatoes up with a wooden spoon, stir and bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, partially cover, and simmer for 1 hour. When done, remove the bay leaf and basil sprig and whiz up with an immersion blender (see Gadgets) or blender. Season to taste, if necessary. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Stuffed Shells
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the shells until al dente, about 5-6 minutes. (You don't want them too soft or they can fall apart when stuffing.) Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain again and spread out on a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, Parmesan, salt and pepper until well mixed. Fill each shell with a large spoonful (about 2 tablespoons) and lay side by side in a buttered 9"x13" baking dish. (You may have to "stuff" them in, but they will fit.) At this point, the shells can be covered and refrigerated, even overnight.

Pour some of the red sauce over the shells, just enough to cover and moisten them.

Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve with the remaining reheated sauce and Parmesan cheese, on the side.

Creamy Goodness!

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