Friday, May 11, 2012

Stuffed Shells

Tonight's Menu
Stuffed Conchiglione
with chicken, spinach, and ricotta cheese
Salad greens
Wine Pairing: Medium body Red and Rose wines

As children, I remember our visits to the seaside in Gujarat and the hunt for the perfect shells to carry back home. These were treasures to remember those lovely summer holidays by. Whenever I cook Conchiglione or giant pasta shells I am reminded of those gorgeous sunsets and long walks at the seashore. 

These cowrie like shells are definitely a 20th-century innovation since it would be difficult to mold these by hand and one only comes across the machine made shells in the stores. These are made thick walled and are tough enough to withstand the boiling, stuffing and baking processes. Other stuffed kinds of pasta include tufoli, manicotti, and lumache and throughout the provinces of southern Italy, one can find these stuffed with cheese, greens and meats, even potato.

This recipe is almost like making lasagna but you stuff the pasta instead of layering it. This recipe is a great hit with everyone. I used ground chicken, but sausage tastes great too. For a vegetarian version just omit the meat and increase the quantity of spinach and cheese.

Stuffed Shells Casserole
Ingredients: serves 4-5

300 gm jumbo pasta shells (40 shells)
1 finely chopped red onion
3 cloves garlic minced
1 pound ground chicken
4 cups fresh spinach chopped fine
11/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 - 1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 - 1 tsp ground black pepper
3 cups of plain tomato sauce (recipe)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F and grease a large casserole dish for baking. 
  2. Cook pasta shells in a large pot of boiling water until al dente, stirring occasionally to prevent shells from sticking together. Drain and rinse in cold water, sprinkle some olive oil so they don't stick with each other. Keep aside to cool.To prepare the stuffing - Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan. Add onion and garlic and cook stirring for 4-5 minutes till they soften. 
  3. Add ground chicken and cook until its brown and fully cooked. Add the spinach and cook on high for 3-5 minutes till spinach wilts and most of the moisture evaporates. 
  4. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Cool for 5 minutes. 
  5. Meanwhile combine ricotta cheese, egg and all the remaining herbs and spices. Mix the cheese and spinach mixture together. 
  6. Spoon the filling into each cooked pasta shell. 
  7. In the prepared casserole dish spread half the tomato sauce on the base. Place the filled shells on it. Pour the remaining tomato sauce on top and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. 
  8. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes until bubbly. Remove from heat and rest for 5 minutes before serving.

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