"True wine enthusiasts don’t collect wines.
They collect memories of wines shared with friends and family."

-Dario Zucconi

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Baked Cheesy Stuffed Pasta Shells: A Make-Ahead Creation

Baked Pasta Shells - prepared on the weekend, and baked during the week
In the last post, I mentioned that last Sunday I had made a baked pasta dish for a weeknight dinner. But, I didn't describe the dish because I wanted to wait until I had baked the pasta so I could have a picture to show you. I baked it tonight, and have a beautiful, mouth-watering, picture to include in this post. The flavors of this dish is out of this world good!

The recipe is also from Food and Wine Magazine (October 2012 issue). What I did was prepare the dish on Sunday up to the last part - the point of baking it - and placed it in a Pyrex baking dish. I covered the Pyrex baking dish up with Aluminum foil and put it in the Refrigerator.  Tonight, as I was leaving work, Patrick put it in the oven to bake. When I got home, he had just taken it out of the oven.  It was nicely hot and bubbly. We made a side green salad, using some delicious heirloom tomatoes from our neighbor Sujata's garden.  As I usually do, I made my own Balsamic Vinegar dressing. It was a really wonderful "weeknight" dinner.  It was extra special because my sister-in-law, Shauna, just flew in tonight from Arizona with her 3 kids to visit for a week. All the kids (except for her 1-month-old baby girl -:) loved the pasta and the salad.  Some of them even had seconds - surprising for my kids!

Below is the recipe.  If you have some time to make this dish, I guarantee you, your family will love it. And, it stores pretty well for easy and delicious weeknight dinners.

Ricotta-and-Fontina-Stuffed Shells with Fennel and Radicchio
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 medium heads of radicchio (10 ounces total), chopped
12 ounces jumbo shells
2 cups fresh ricotta cheese
6 ounces Italian Fontina cheese, shredded (1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Freshly ground pepper
2 large eggs, beaten
3 cups Best-Ever Marinara or jarred sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream 
Preheat the oven to 375°. In a large, deep skillet, melt the butter in the oil. Add the fennel and onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes; add water as needed to keep the vegetables from scorching. Add the radicchio and cook until very soft, about 10 minutes, adding water as needed. Scrape the vegetables into a bowl and let cool.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and cool under running water. Pat the shells dry.

Fold the ricotta, 1 cup of the Fontina and the parsley into the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the eggs.

In another bowl, mix the marinara sauce with the heavy cream. Pour 1 1/2 cups into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Stuff each shell with a slightly rounded tablespoon of the filling and nestle the shells in the sauce as close together as possible. Drizzle 1 cup of the remaining sauce on top and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of Fontina.

Bake the shells for about 40 minutes, until golden. Let rest for 15 minutes. Warm the remaining sauce and serve on the side.

[NOTE: I made my own marinara sauce - recipe below - because I wanted to try it. It was spectacular. But, if you are short on time, pick up a jar at the Store.]
Best-Ever Marinara 

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 peeled and halved garlic cloves
1 tablespoon tomato paste
One 35-ounce can whole peeled Italian tomatoes
Freshly ground pepper
Pinch of sugar
2 basil sprigs 
In a large saucepan, heat the extra-virgin olive oil. Add the garlic cloves and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and crush them with the back of a spoon; season with salt and pepper. Stir in the sugar and basil sprigs and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened and reduced to 3 cups, about 30 minutes. Discard the basil sprigs and garlic.

I hope you have a wonderful rest of the week and a great weekend.  If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, Happy Fleet Week!

Until next time . . . Cheers!


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