Sausage, Spinach, Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells….say that five times fast!

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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!

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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.

Enjoy!

 

Here is the original recipe. It uses canned tomatoes instead of tomato sauce. It also did not include mozzarella, which is madness. Sheer madness.

 

Miss Fancy-Pants Brunch idea

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

 

Christmas morning I had a crowd for breakfast. I typically make my Egg Strata (previously posted) with bacon. I knew that I would need a little more to feed my family. I had printed out this recipe a while ago, and thought what better time to try it. I was so right. They were delicious. The pancakes are very light with a great lemon flavor. I had tasted the batter and thought there wasn’t enough lemon, but left it alone. I’m glad I did. Once the grated lemon zest hits the heat, the flavor pops. The ricotta makes the pancakes very light. These might be on the menu for tomorrow too. It’s a perfect “fancy” brunch recipe, or something to nosh on with your kids. The original recipe called for sautéing apples and serving them over the pancakes. I wish I had done this. But, hey it was Christmas and I was tired from a week of cooking. The thought of warm apples and maple syrup makes me tingle. Try this recipe. If you’re nervous, keep that box of Aunt Jemima nearby. I am betting you won’t need it. There are no pictures of these pancakes. They were gone by the time I thought of it.

 

4 large eggs, separated

1 1/3 cups ricotta

1 ½ tablespoons sugar

1 ½ tablespoons grated lemon zest

½ cup all-purpose flour

 

Melted butter for brushing the griddle

Maple syrup, as an accompaniment

In a bowl whisk together the egg yolks, the ricotta, the sugar, and the zest, add the flour, and stir the mixture until it is just combined. In a bowl with an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they hold stiff peaks; whisk about one fourth of them into the ricotta mixture, and fold in the remaining whites gently but thoroughly. Heat a griddle to a medium heat. When drops of water scatter over its surface, brush the griddle with some of the melted butter. Working in batches, pour the batter onto the griddle by ¼ measures and cook the pancakes for about 2 minute on each side, or until they are golden, brushing the griddle with some of the melted butter as necessary. Transfer the pancakes as they are cooked to a heatproof pan and keep them warm in a preheated 200-degree oven. Transfer to a serving platter to serve.

I may be the last one on the planet that has heard of this recipe. The original, original recipe was from Gourmet Magazine 1991. I think I was deep in diapers and trying to stay sane. It is the best excuse I got. I was not reading Gourmet Magazine in 1991. I was reading picture books and watching PBS children’s programs. This trend continued for many years……

Serve the pancakes with maple syrup, and if you’re smart, with sautéed apples. They make about twelve 3-to-4-inch pancakes.

 

Here is the Smitten Kitchen recipe. There are pictures and detailed directions if you need them. If you haven’t visited this website, you should. It is fantastic!

NOTE: I made these pancakes today. I added a tsp. of lemon juice and made the apples. Oh please make the apples. It’s like apple pie on pancakes.photo And, for the love of bacon, please bake your bacon

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Zest when you think you’ve seen it all…..

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  Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze

 

A few weeks ago, I was trying to use three pounds of ricotta cheese in under a week.  I did it! I made a lasagna, a ricotta and spinach pasta dish and some amazing lemon cookies, using a Giada De Laurentiis recipe. If you are looking for a taste of Spring, try these cookies. The lemon glaze puts them over the top. I thought the ricotta would make them heavy, but they were very light. The cookies did not spread out while they cooked. They made a beautiful mound of cookie. They were wonderful. Even my son, who made a face when I told him what I was baking, devoured them……

2 ½ cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1 stick of unsalted butter, softened

2 cups of sugar

2 eggs

1 15 oz. container of whole milk ricotta

3 tbsp. lemon juice

1 lemon, zested

Glaze

1-½ cups powdered sugar (10X)

3 tbsp. lemon juice

1 lemon, zested

Recipes are wonderful, but they never tell you how many lemons you are going to need. This recipe calls for 6 tablespoons of lemon juice, divided. How much juice you get from a lemon depends on several things. When you are looking at lemons, pick them up. You want to buy a heavy lemon. The heaviness means there’s more juice. So, for this recipe I bought 6 lemons and used about 4. I would rather have too many lemons, than to run out and buy more. Make sure the lemons are room temperature. You will get more juice out of a lemon that is NOT cold. Roll the lemon on the counter before you juice the lemon.  Also, juice the lemons before you start the recipe. I use a wooden reamer, and juice the lemons over a glass-measuring cup.  You can just use your hands to squeeze them. Remove the seeds with a spoon. Before you juice the lemons, I would zest them into a separate container from the juice. You can use a zester or a box grater that has a zesting side. Now you are ready to get baking.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar. You use unsalted butter in baking for freshness. Salt is a preservative and gives butter a long shelf life. Therefore, unsalted butter is fresher. Using an electric mixer beat the butter and sugar until it’s light and fluffy. This takes about 3 minutes. Add 1 egg at a time. I recommend breaking the eggs into bowl, just in case they have gone bad. Beat the mixture until the eggs are incorporated.  Add the ricotta, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Beat to combine. Stir in the dry mixture of flour, baking powder and salt.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Spoon the dough onto the baking sheet, using about 2 tbsp. of batter for each cookie. You can place 4 across the pan, as the dough does not spread out.

Bake each sheet for 15 minutes until slightly golden at the edge. I like to bake each sheet one at a time. That’s my preference in my oven. Remove the cookie sheets from oven and let cookies rest on the baking sheet for 20 minutes to cool.

To make the glaze, combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest in a small bowl. Use ½ tsp. of glaze on each cookie, using the back of a spoon to spread. Let the glaze harden for 2 hours. Store in an airtight container.

If you want to go over the top with these cookies, you could put a few candied lemon peels on before the glaze hardens. Enjoy!

Giada De Laurentiis lemon cookies