Friday, April 23, 2010

Stuffed Shells

Stuffed shells are a family favorite, so when Mimi Jr. said she wanted to learn to make them we spent a fun afternoon in the kitchen making all the different components. They are a little time consuming, but you do it in several steps which can all be done ahead of time so all you have to do is bake the assembled dish. Along with the ricotta filling that you most often see, we also did a veal and Italian sausage filling. The filled shells are covered by both a bechamel and a marinara sauce and it is all topped with fresh mozzarella and Parmesan. With a nice salad and glass of wine we had the perfect little Italian restaurant right at home!

There are lots of shortcuts to make this a quick and easy dinner. When the children were small, and I cooked by myself, I would just make the cheeses filling covered with balsamella and cheese.  The recipes can easily be halved or doubled to make the amount that suits your family. I like to double the marinara sauce and freeze half for another time, but you could also use your favorite jarred sauce.

24 Jumbo shells- we got 12 of each filling
Marinara sauce
Balsamella (bechamel) sauce
cheese filling
sausage/veal filling
1 lb fresh mozzarella grated
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Marinara Sauce
2 tablespoons Olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped carrots
1 tablespoon chopped basil
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
1 bay leaf
2 lb plus 6 oz crushed tomatoes
1 6 oz can tomato paste
fresh ground pepper
Pinch of sugar

1. Heat the oil and butter in a heavy skillet. Add onions and cook over low heat about 10 minutes, until soft and opaque. Stir in carrots and cook 4 minutes. Add basil, parsley and bay leaf, stir to incorporate.
2.Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper and sugar. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes
3. Puree the sauce in a food mill or food processor. Leave some texture to the sauce.

Balsamella Sauce
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 /2 cup cream
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Melt the butter over moderate heat; add the flour and stir together thoroughly.
2. Add the milk and cream and mix together. Stirring constantly, bring the sauce to a boil. When thick and smooth, stir in salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix well and remove from heat. Stir as it cool to prevent skin from forming. If it does form a skin, just add a little more milk and warm it up again.

Cheese Filling
1 lb ricotta cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon each of salt and freshly ground pepper
3 egg yolks or 2 whole eggs
2 tablespoons chopped scallions or chives
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/4 lb. diced mozzarella

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir to thoroughly incorporate the ingredients. Cover and chill until ready to fill the shells.

Sausage and Veal Filling
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots or onions
1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage
1/2 lb ground lean veal
6 tablespoons fine bread crumbs
1/2 cup cream
2 eggs
1 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon each chopped fresh rosemary, lemon zest and salt
freshly ground pepper.

1.Heat the oil over moderate heat, add the onions and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring often. When they just begin to color add the sausage meat and cook until it loses its pink color. Add the veal, saute for 3-4 minutes until it too has lost its pink color. Drain off the fat.
2.In a large bowl soak the  bread crumbs in the cream for 3-4 minutes.  Add the cook meat and beat together with a wooden spoon until the mixture is fairly smooth, than beat in the eggs 1 at a time. Stir in the parsley, rosemary,lemon zest, salt, and pepper.
To assemble the shells:
Cook the pasta until al dente. We did this in 2 batches of 12 shells each. Lay them on a clean kitchen towel to cool before you fill them. Butter a large casserole dish or several smaller ones. Stuff the shells with about 2 tablespoons of the filling and place them in the dish(es) so they are close, but not too squished together.
Pour the marinara and balsamella sauces over the top and spread to cover evenly. Sprinkle the parmesan and mozzarella cheeses over the top and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

This my entry for Foodie Friday