Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Pasta and Cheese...These Are a Few of My Favorite Things...

Good evening everyone!  Tonight, I'm returning to some of my favorite ingredients to create something entirely different.  In our pantry, we still had half a bag of jumbo pasta shells remaining from the Mexican stuffed shells recipe.  Using that dish as my inspiration, I sought to find another recipe that featured jumbo shells.  This task was not quite as easy as I expected.  Although there were quite a few recipes that looked promising, in the end, they would of had to been altered drastically due to a multitude of ingredients that we aren't really fans of. I was determined to find a recipe I wouldn't have to modifiy as much.  Then I stumbled upon tonight's recipe and I was quite pleased with not only the simplicity, but the lack of alterations we would need to make.  Without further ado, let's get cooking!

The Recipe:  Stuffed Shells with Arrabbiata Sauce
Original Recipe Found On:

What You'll Need:
(Original recipe serves 8-10, the following is modified for 2 servings.)

6 Ounces (half a box) Jumbo Pasta Sauce (between 15-20 shells)
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
3 Ounces thinly sliced Pancetta, diced
1 Teaspoon dried Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1 Garlic Clove
3 Cups Crushed Tomatoes
1 (15 ounce) container whole milk Ricotta Cheese
3/4 Cup grated Parmesan Cheese
2 Large Egg Yolks
1 1/2  Tablespoons dried Italian Parsley
1 1/2 Tablespoons dried Basil
1/2 Teaspoon dried Mint
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Pepper
1 Cup shredded Mozzarella Cheese

The original recipe called for marinara suace to be used as a base, rather than crushed tomatoes. Much like my recipe last week, however, I opted to use crushed tomatoes to greatly reduce the sodium level in this recipe.

To start, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the shells until they are slightly tender, but not cooked all the way through, roughly between four to six minutes.  I found that six minutes seemed to work the best.  (The shells will continue to cook when they are in the oven, so you don't want them to be perfectly al dente.)  Pour the shells into a colander to drain, ensuring that all the water is dumped out of the shells so they will cool.  Arrange the shells on a lightly oiled baking sheet or dish so they don't stick together as they are allowed to cool.

Next, preheat an oven to 350 degrees and heat a large nonstick skillet with the oil over medium heat.  This will begin the process of making our arrabbiata sauce:  Once the oil is barely shimmering, add the pancetta and sauté until golden brown, around five minutes.  Add the red pepper flakes and garlic, sauté until tender and fragrant, about one minute.  Add the crushed tomatoes and stir until all the ingredients are well incorporated.  Turn the heat down to low and let the sauce simmer, stirring often to prevent the sauce from sticking to the pan.

Traditionally, the arrabbiata sauce is a Roman sauce that consists of garlic, tomatoes, and red chili, cooked in olive oil.  The added pancetta gives the sauce a nice kick without overwhelming the entire  sauce.  It's kind of similar to a hamburger based meat sauce, but with a unique twist.  arrabbiata would be traditionally served over pasta and today is no different.

While the sauce is simmering, you can start on the stuffing:  stir the ricotta, parmesan, egg yolks, basil, parsley, mint, salt and pepper together until well incorporated.  Depending if the pasta is done and the sauce is finishing its simmer, you can keep the stuffing out to move to the next step - if your pasta still needs a few minutes, stick the stuffing in the refrigerator until needed.

Cheesy and herb-y stuffing

Pour two cups of the arrabbiata sauce over a 12 by 9 baking dish.  Fill the cooled, cooked shells with the cheese mixture, about one and a half to two tablespoons per shell.  Arrange the shells in the baking dish until they fit snugly.  Spoon the remaining sauce over the shells and top with the mozzarella cheese.  

Place the baking dish in the lower third of the oven until the filling is heated through and the cheese is a golden brown, which will take between 25 to 30 minutes.  Serve and enjoy!

The End Result:

The flavor premise behind this dish is quite promising.  Stuff pasta shells with cheese and herbs and top with a tangy tomato sauce.  Although that taste premise is promised, there were several things that could have been tweaked to be made better.  The mint was incredibly overpowering, even in its small, dried amount.  I'm not sure if this was because we had just purchased the dried mint - so it was still very strong, or if the recipe just needs to reduce the quantity used. The mint was so strong in this dish that all the other herb flavors were lost.  The mint could have been almost omitted or reduced, even simply sticking with the basil and parsley would have made the dish quite pleasant.  I would highly recommend to cook the dish the entire 30 minutes to heat the stuffing better, especially since the stuffing contains raw eggs.  Overall, the dish showed great promise and the flavors were top notch.  Adjusting a few things would have made it a truly superb dish.

That's all we have for you this evening.  Thanks for joining us this week and come back on Monday with another batch of stories from the cooking world.  Until then,


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