These shells are my own recipe and honestly I’m not that great at typing out recipes, mostly because I don’t measure anything , and I tend to ramble, which you have already noticed. However – here is my best attempt to record my haphazard ways. In other news, I served this with phyllo-wrapped asparagus which I will post later on – this was just a lot of typing, ok?
Ricotta Stuffed Shells
1 Box Jumbo Pasta Shells
1 Large container of Whole Milk Sargento Ricotta Cheese (do not try and save money or calories by buying knock off low fat ricotta cheese it will not taste the same. Just walk a few extra laps tonight, its worth it, I promise.)
4 oz Cream Cheese (softened)
1 Clove Garlic (pressed or minced)
2 Cups Mozzarella Cheese
1/2 Cup Parmesan Cheese
1 Batch Homemade Meat Sauce – Recipe below (take the extra time, make your own sauce, its easy.)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Start your sauce (see below for recipe)
Once your sauce is left to simmer, put your water on for the noodles. Once it’s boiling, cook the noodles until the get to a pre-al dente state. They need to be pliable enough to fill but if you over cook them they are going to fall apart. They will also continue to cook in the oven and you don’t want them to get extra mushy.
While the shells are cooking, start making your ricotta filling. Mix together ricotta, garlic, 1/4 of the parmesan, 1/4 of the mozzarella, cream cheese, and just a sprinkling of salt, pepper, oregano, and basil until smooth and well blended. (Make sure your cream cheese really is softened or it won’t blend well. It really adds the perfect flavor elevating the mix beyond plain ricotta which is amazing in its own right.)
Once my pasta is done I drain it and stick the colander in the freezer for a few minutes so that the shells cool enough for me to handle them without crying. I do NOT recommend rinsing with cold water to get the cooling effect – it washes of the starch making your noodles slimy to handle and not sticky enough to cling to the sauce. While noodles are cooling, I like to grease down my casserole pan to ensure easy removal after baking.
When manageable, use a spoon to stuff pasta with cheese mixture and place crammed up next to each other in deep casserole dish. Cover entire layer of shells with thick layer of sauce, then the rest of the mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Bake in oven uncovered for 30-40 minutes – until mozz melts and parm begins to tan just slightly. Let it sit on the counter for a few minutes before serving to allow everything to settle – will be easier to serve and just less messy in general (its still going to be messy, its covered in sauce and cheese.)
Homemade Meat Sauce
1 Large Yellow Onion (diced)
4 Cloves Garlic
2 Large Cans Crushed Tomatoes
Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1/4 Cup Parmesan Cheese
1 Small Package Ground Turkey (or ground beef I just prefer turkey because the flavor is tamer. I don’t like the beef flavor invading my sauce but do as you please, its your sauce.)
2 Tablespoons Butter
Add a few turns of olive oil and the butter to a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion once butter is melted. Let that cook out while you throw the meat into a small frying pan over medium heat with a shake of salt and pepper.
As the meat is browning, begin to add your spices to the onions to make a nice onion-spice paste. This is where my directions get shady because lack of measurement. I would start with 1/2 tablespoon of sugar, teaspoon salt and pepper, tablespoon oregano, tablespoon basil, teaspoon red pepper, and all the parm cheese. Once your meat is nearly browned, drain, and add to the onion pot so it can finish cooking while absorbing the flavor. When your meat is done, squeeze in the garlic (from a press or just minced is fine) and let simmer for just a minute more until the garlic is fragrant.
Now pour in both cans of tomatoes, mix well, and heat until sauce begins to bubble. Once you see some bubble action, turn it down to low heat and let it simmer so the flavors can mix and mingle and you can go start the rest of your meal. While cooking I will intermittently come back and taste my sauce, making any additions necessary – more sugar, more salt, more red pepper — whatever it needs to suit your tastes really. —-