Wednesday, November 24, 2010

recipe of the week: stuffed shells casserole

**please excuse the lack of pictures.   it was so good that we kinda forgot about that part.**

i LOVED the idea of this recipe
who doesn't love stuffed shells?
who doesn't get frustrated when making them because either they fall apart, leak all their filling, or just in general don't turn out the way you expected?
(ok, maybe i'm the only one who prepares to make 12 stuffed shells and ends up with 7 - 9 actual shells and 3 - 5 shells worth of ripped fragments)

but even if they work out perfectly
they're kind of a pain.  yes?

so this recipe from rachael ray comes in to make our lives a bit easier.
it's CERTAINLY not a 30 minute meal
more like three times that
but most of that is kind of passive time
so you can set the table, make other foodstuffs, etc while the sauce is cooking or the casserole is baking :)

stuffed shells casserole
for the sauce:
extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, chopped finely (i minced)
3/4 of 1 large (or 2 small/medium) onion, chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped or grated
salt and pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano or marjoram
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed with the flat edge of your knife
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped (i only had dried since my thyme didn't survive all summer!)
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry wine, white or red (i used white)
2 cups chicken stock
2 cans crushed italian tomatoes (i used diced this time around, use whatever.  also, the original recipe calls for 28 oz cans, but i used 2 regular sized cans.  it was the perfect ratio for us, but if you prefer a more tomatoey sauce, use the big cans.)

for the "stuffed" bit:
1 pound medium or large pasta shells
2 boxes frozen spinach, defrosted and wrung dry with a clean towel (i used 1 bag from trader joes because it's about the same)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
the other 1/4 of the large or two small/med onion
2 cups fresh ricotta cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano - reggiano cheese 
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten

in a large pan, heat about 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil.  add the garlic, onion and carrot.  season with salt, pepper, oregano, crushed red pepper, fennel seeds, and thyme and gently saute for about 10 minutes.  add in parsley and stir, then add wine and reduce a minute (unless you're me and forget that step), chicken stock and tomatoes.  bring to a bubble and reduce heat to simmer.  simmer sauce for 45 minutes.

after sauce has been heating for 30 minutes, preheat oven to 375゜

bring a pot of water to a boil for the pasta.  salt the water, and boil pasta for 5 minutes.
at the same time, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  add garlic and onion and saute for 5 minutes.  add spinach, pulling apart and separating as you go. stir to combine well and add nutmeg, salt and pepper.  turn off heat.
(ok, to save time, i had the defrosting spinach in a bowl, wrung it out, and then went ahead and seasoned with nutmeg, salt and pepper while it was still in the bowl)

drain undercooked pasta and return it to the hot pot. add spinach mixture to pot, along with ricotta and parmigiano cheeses. stir to combine and then add egg yolks.
(erm, again, i saved time here by mixing the spinach, cheeses and eggs in the large bowl the spinach was defrosting in.  i then added the drained pasta and stirred it all up)

pour a thin layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish.  fill dish with pasta, and then top with another layer of sauce.  if you wish, you can save some to dish on at the table...i just dump all the sauce in :)  bake 30 minutes.
extra fresh parmigiano on the table is never a bad idea ;-)

enjoy!  just so you know, this recipe makes a TON.  anthony and i ate big helpings, i sent him home with 2 really large servings of leftovers for he and his roommate, i put aside a serving for his grandpa, an additional serving for me, and i STILL had 2 large servings to freeze.
we're taking another dish of this to a friend who just had a baby this week, along with a salad.  pasta and sauce is always a winner :)


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