I sent this post earlier this morning, but I'm resending it now to ask for prayers and help for the people in Abruzzo affected by the terrible earthquake which has already killed about 100 people and left thousands more homeless.
You know how some recipes stir memories of an event or a person? This one reminds me of my mom, who frequently cooked up large casseroles of these for an impromptu family dinner. She added ground meat to the ricotta stuffing, but I've added spinach instead. If you choose to make the sauce meatless, you've got a great vegetarian meal.
I hadn't made these in years, but since I had some leftover ricotta in the fridge and some jars of tomato sauce with ground beef that my brother Frank had made, I thought, why not make up a batch of stuffed shells and have an impromptu dinner with friends?
We frequently spend holidays with our friends Jan and Dave but this Easter we each have different plans. So who better to invite for a casual meal than friends we've known for more than three decades and haven't seen in a while? Fortunately, they were available on a last minute whim and came over Saturday night for an informal dinner. No fussing involved - no appetizers, no good china, no fancy silver. Just a simple meal of stuffed shells and salad and a bottle of good wine to share with friends who are like family. Oh, we also ate a deeeelicious apple and pear galette that Jan brought over. I'll be posting the recipe for that as soon as she gets it to me.
The food was great, but more important was the chance to be with long-time friends and our kids too, who were home for the weekend. Why not give it a try? Call some friends you haven't seen in a long time and invite them to come share a meal with you - maybe even these stuffed shells. If you've got some tomato sauce stored in the freezer, so much the better. The recipe goes together pretty quickly in that case.
Here's what it looks like before it goes in the oven. This recipe makes even more than is shown in the photo, but I kept about a dozen or so and froze them for another meal. Here's what it looks like when it comes out of the oven:Stuffed Shells
17.6 ounce package shells (There were 53 shells in the package, but a few of them broke while cooking)
2 eggs 2 lbs. ricotta 1 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese 3 cups shredded mozzarella 1 box chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained well 2 T. minced parsley salt, pepper a grating of fresh nutmeg
I used a cellophane package of shells I bought at the supermarket weighing 17.6 ounces and this amount of filling was perfect for that size package. Most packaged shells come in a cardboard box and weigh less than this, so if you can't find the larger size cellophane package, make less of the filling and use one of the cardboard boxes, or use 1 1/2 boxes of the shells and the full amount of the filling.
Cook the shells in boiling water, but under cook them slightly, since they'll also bake in the oven. Drain the shells after boiling. Put them into a pot of cool water, since the ones you're not working on are likely to stick together if they're sitting in a colander. Drain about a dozen at time in a colander and stuff, then repeat with the remaining shells.
Stuffing: Beat the eggs lightly. Add the cheeses and the remaining ingredients, except the tomato sauce. Stuff the shells gently with the mixture. Place some tomato sauce in a heat-proof casserole and lay stuffed shells into it. Pour more sauce on and around the shells. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until heated through and bubbly.
The device you see in the slides above is a "torchio," a hollow brass tube attached to a bench or a wall. Different metal "dies" can be inserted in the torchio for different shapes of pasta. The torchio belonged to my mother's family in Italy. After decades of collecting dust in my basement, the torchio was recently resurrected when my father offered to make a bench for it. The torchio is screwed to the bench, semolina pasta dough is fed into the tube, the crank is turned, (in this case by my son Michael) and with a lot of elbow grease, pasta is extruded through the die. What comes out below is a tubular pasta - anything from thin spaghetti to bucatini, similar to a hollow straw.
In my last life, I was a journalist in NYC, but left the rat race to live in Italy for a year. I created this blog upon my return to combine my interests of writing and photography with my love of food and travel. My mother was from the region of Emilia-Romagna, my father's family was from Calabria and my late husband's family is Abruzzese. Is it any wonder then, that Italian art, music, food and the country's beautiful landscape are among my passions? I hope you will try some of the recipes and post comments. Buon Appetito. Linda