It was the ricotta that did me in. I gave up lasagna when I was ten in grand fashion. There was a slamming door involved, and I think I ran back into my bedroom to bedazzle something. I couldn't stand the taste of the ricotta cheese and decided I'd never put that awful stuff in my mouth again. When Graham told me he didn't like lasagna, I was sold. I was thrilled that I'd never have to make "that" and I'd never have to eat ricotta cheese ever again.
But, about two weeks after we got married, I got strange cravings for stuffed shells. Bizarre cravings. The kind of cravings that hit you at 2:00 a.m. and make you think you'd better get yourself a pregnancy test, just to be sure....anywho, I started craving stuffed shells like I'd rarely craved anything before. I gave up last week and decided that it couldn't hurt to make them once, just to make sure I still disliked ricotta cheese, right?
Surprisingly, ricotta and I have made our peace. I actually like the stuff now! It's not my favorite, and it still has a "gritty" taste I don't like, but every now and then, I think we'll be okay. :-)
This recipe is from Giada DiLaurentiis, and while it's not a favorite of mine, it's a great meal or appetizer.
Stuffed Shells with Arrabbiata Sauce
12 ounces (1 box) jumbo pasta shells (approximately 36 shells)
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for greasing baking sheet
6 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, diced
2 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, minced
5 cups marinara sauce
2 (15-ounce) containers whole milk ricotta cheese
1 1/3 cups grated Parmesan
4 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
3 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Lightly oil a 12 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish and set aside.
Partially cook the pasta shells in a large pot of boiling salted water until slightly tender but still quite firm to the bite, about 4 to 6 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, drain pasta shells and place on oiled baking sheet, spreading them out so that they don't stick together and allow to cool.
Heat the oil in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and saute until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes. Add the garlic and saute until tender, about 1 minute. Add the marinara sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer, stirring often.
In a medium bowl, stir the ricotta, Parmesan, egg yolks, basil, parsley, mint, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Spoon 1 1/4 cups of the sauce over the prepared baking dish. Fill the cooked shells with the cheese mixture, about 2 tablespoons per shell. Arrange the shells in the prepared dish. Spoon the remaining sauce over the shells, then sprinkle with the mozzarella.
Bake in the lower third of your oven until the filling is heated through and the top is golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.
- I used skim milk ricotta cheese, and they tasted great. I don't like whole milk anything.
- I used 3 cups marinara sauce and 2 cups crushed tomatoes (1 can). I really liked the chunkier style it gave the sauce.
- I know mint sounds weird, but it added a really nice zest to the shells and great contrast to the red pepper flakes.
- Speaking of red pepper flakes, if they're too spicy for you, leave 'em out.
- Fresh herbs make a world of difference in this meal. If you don't have fresh, use dried, but up the amount of tried by half a T.
- You can sub bacon for the pancetta, but I don't because I love pancetta.