You had me at jumbo pasta shells. I don’t recall ever making stuffed shells. Shameful. What’s a Sunday without a confession or two. I always thought that it would be more complicated. I made these on a weeknight with little effort. It was a rare night where I didn’t have to make 2 train station runs. If you want to do it in steps, prepare the stuffing the night before and refrigerate it. I love doing things in steps. Here’s my dirty little secret. I used Ragu spaghetti sauce. Yup. Another confession on this rainy Sunday. When the kids were little I used to make my own, but they fussed at the sight of onions in it. I waved the white flag and started buying it. Sometimes on the weekends, when feeling my inner Italian calling, I make it. But, I.AM.BUSY.
This is a public service announcement. Use good quality ingredients. When you invest time and effort into cooking, use the best ingredients you can find, especially if there are only a few ingredients in the recipe. (Hey, there’s nothing wrong with Ragu!) I implore you to use a good ricotta. What’s a good ricotta you ask? It should taste sweet and creamy. It should not be rubbery. Google it. I really like Calabro ricotta. You can taste and see the difference between this and most grocery store brands. Also, use real Parmesan. Try to find Parmesan that looks like it was chiseled out a big Parmesan wheel. Don’t buy the pre-grated Parmesan. You want to use real Parmesan Reggiano. Cut off a piece and taste it. It’s a hard, dry cheese with a rich sharp flavor. It’s made in Italy and has a superior taste to grocery store Parmesan. It’s expensive, but it makes such a difference. I freeze the rinds and pull them out to help flavor soups.
So, as usual, read through all recipes before attempting to bake. Because I didn’t, you should!
1 12-ounce package jumbo pasta shells
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 large egg
16-ounces ricotta cheese
10-ounces chopped frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed dry, and chopped further
1 cup Parmesan cheese, divided
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil or 1 tsp dried basil
1/4 cup breadcrumbs, seasoned or unseasoned
8 ounces fresh mozzarella pearls or 2 cups of shredded/grated mozzarella
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
28 ounces of tomato sauce, or so
*2* 9 X 13 baking dishes
First, cook your shells according to the package directions. When they are done, drain them in a colander and run cold water over them. Shake, shake, shake the water off. Put them aside.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened. I may or may not have used more than one onion. How could it hurt? Add the sausage to the pan, breaking up the sausage into smaller bits. You can use chicken or turkey sausage if you prefer. Make sure there is no pink in the center of the sausage. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Dropped food on the floor has a 5 second rule, cooking garlic has a 30 second rule. Remove the pan from the heat.
Beat the egg slightly in a large bowl. Mix in the ricotta, chopped spinach, 1/2 cup Parmesan, basil, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, sausage mixture and the pearls. I cannot tell you the sheer joy mixing in the pearls brought me. They are so cute. Shredded mozzarella does the trick, but these are just pearls of joy! Fill each cooked pasta shell with some of the mixture. Don’t forget to taste test it!
Spread about 1/2 cup of tomato sauce over the bottom of both pans. Full disclosure, I did not pay attention to this detail, and crammed “most” of the stuffed shells into one pan. I would suggest using two. Use an aluminum foil pan and freeze it for another dinner. Also, I did not heat up the sauce. I just poured it from the jar. A big no-no, but it worked. Sorry Nonni. Just eye-ball it and use a little less, knowing as it heats up, it thins out. If you are a stickler for rules, heat it up in another pan. It.was.a.week.night. Yes, this is my third cooking confession. (Maybe four) Arrange the stuffed shells in the dishes (sigh). Spread some sauce over the top of the pasta shells. Again, guesstimate it. You don’t want them swimming, or, too dry.
Place foil covered pans in a 375 degree oven, and bake for 30 minutes, until hot and bubbling. Remove foil and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan over the shells and bake uncovered for 10 more minutes. I may have grated more Parmesan “by accident” (ahem).
Let it set for about 10 minutes. Serve with a salad to make yourself feel better.
Here is the original recipe. It uses canned tomatoes instead of tomato sauce. It also did not include mozzarella, which is madness. Sheer madness.