Cheesy Stuffed Shells

Recently, I found out that one of my coworkers was moving over a thousand miles away.  As with most celebrations or milestones in life, I honor them with food.  I asked him his preference for a dish, and he said he liked pasta.  So my gears turned for a while until I posed the suggestion of a manicotti or stuffed pasta dish.  This idea went over well, so the plan was set.  I knew this would be the kind of dish best served warm from the oven and not microwaved, so I made a glass casserole of the baked dish that could be popped in the oven. Naturally, I made a smaller casserole so that I could try it.  I had to make sure it was safe to eat, after all.


To start, I boiled up some pasta shells.  I made more than enough, as I expected my first time at this recipe could be a little sloppy.  I let them cook until they were softened but al dente, as the oven was to finish the work of cooking them.


I put together the filling based on what I've learned of lasagna so far.  Typically, I used cottage cheese in lasagna (see Turkey Lasagna), but decided to change it up and use ricotta in these.  The basics were the same though: ricotta, egg, shredded cheese, basil, and parsley did the trick.


The sauce is a basic red - I sauteed some the chopped onion and minced garlic for 1-2 minutes in the olive oil.  I mixed in the water, tomato sauce, tomato paste, red cooking wine, parsley, basil, marjoram, chili powder, garlic salt, and pepper together in a saucepan and let the mixture simmer for 10-15 minutes.

I took the cooked shells and, holding the shell in one hand, used the other to spoon some filling in the center.  The shells reminded me of one of those little rubber coin purses that were popular when I was younger - they stayed sealed until you squeezed the center, then opened up.  The next part was quite similar to lasagna.  I spread some sauce on the bottom of the pan--partially to keep the bottom of them from drying out, but also to provide a bit of adhesive when i set them down.  This prevented the cheese from immediately spilling out.  I laid the shells in a single layer on the bottom,then spread some sauce over the top.  I sprinkled some mixed Italian cheeses over the top to finish off the prep portion of the recipe.


The shells only needed about 25 minutes in the oven before the cheese was melted evenly and the sauce was bubbling.


Ricotta makes quite the difference with a dish of this sort.  Though I find cottage cheese to bake quite well, ricotta has a more full flavor and make a very smooth filling.  The lack of meat in this dish was barely noticeable.  The cheese and sauce were so fulfilling that I did not even miss it.  My friend gave me some great reviews as well - I was so pleased to have had the opportunity to make him a nice dinner before a long trip.  Food is my favorite way to let people know they are special and important in their lives.  The thought and effort put into a dish makes it special in my eyes.

Cheesy Stuffed Shells Recipe

Ingredients:

For the sauce:
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 cup water
1 can tomato sauce
1 can tomato paste
2 tablespoons red cooking wine
2 teaspoons parsley
2 teaspoons basil
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 teaspoon pepper

For the filling:
1 container ricotta (15 ounces)
1 egg
1 1/2 cup mixed Italian cheese
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon parsley

8-10 large pasta shells, cooked

Instructions:

Boil the noodles according to package directions, cooking until softened but still slightly firm.  To make the sauce, saute some the chopped onion and minced garlic for 1-2 minutes in olive oil.  Stir in water, tomato sauce, tomato paste, red cooking wine, parsley, basil, marjoram, chili powder, garlic salt, and pepper together in a saucepan and let the mixture simmer for 10-15 minutes.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Mix the filling by combining ricotta, egg, 1 cup of the shredded cheese, basil, and parsley.  Spread about 1/4 cup of sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish.  Place the shell in one hand and gently spoon in 2-3 tablespoons of filling with the other, closing the shell.  Lay shells in the casserole on top of the sauce, then repeat until all shells are filled.  Pour the remaining sauce over the top and sprinkle on the remaining cheese.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling.

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