Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Stuffed Shells with cheesy goodness

Every once in a while, I like buying a box of fun shaped pasta just for the heck of it. Some times I actually use the appropriate sauce. There was an episode of "Lydia's Italy" on PBS where Lydia talked about the appropriate combinations of sauce and pasta shape. Then I found this website called The Geometry of Pasta which also gives you a good idea of what to pair up. It's not all macaroni and spaghetti, crushers!

There are some pasta shapes that are begging to be filled with delicious ingredients. Shell pasta or conchiglioni is one of those types. These shells are stuff-able and bake-able. 

When I bought the shell pasta, my husband asked me when I would actually make time to do this. I reminded him that sometimes I bake things at 10 p.m., so I would for sure find time to make these. Well, yesterday was a bit trying since it was SLOW at work until the last 45 minutes. Of course, this is when we needed to carpool and I was the picker-upper. Then traffic just sucked. 
Yes, I know I live in Wisconsin where the biggest city is still relatively small compared to larger cities. You're welcome to your 6-lane highways. I get fed up with slow drivers when we have only 3 lanes!
Plus, it was starting to get really cold and snow. Now, I love snow, and it will be perfect for my sister's holiday wedding coming up, but I just didn't want it to snow right then since we wanted to go running. What to do?
It's hard to tell, but that is snow on my windshield (taken after cooking - not while driving).
Make a delicious meal for your loved one. Relax in knowledge that water will boil when heated and onions will soften and release their yummy fragrance when cooked in olive oil. Knowing that a hot, delicious, cheesy meal is only an hour away can make all the difference. Or is it the glass of wine you drink while browning the ground beef? Who cares?!

I (mostly) followed this recipe for Three Cheese-Stuffed Shells with Meaty Tomato Sauce by one of my all time Kitchen Crushes, Ree Drummond, also known as The Pioneer Woman. This woman is an amazing cook. Also, if I ever thought I could be a red head, I'd want her hair.

Anyway, here is the recipe that I used. It is almost the recipe that Ree used. She has awesome pictures and the full recipe on her site, so you should check it out. Or, if you accidentally bought the wrong cheese and spinach instead of basil, you can use mine below:

Pasta and Sauce Ingredients:
  • 12 oz, weight Jumbo Pasta Shells
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1/2 whole Medium Onion, Chopped
  • 5 cloves Garlic, Minced or crushed
  • 1 lb ground beef or Italian sausage
  • 1/2 cup Red Wine
  • 1 whole 28 Ounce Can Crushed Tomatoes 
  • 1 cup pasta sauce
  • 15 oz, weight Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 heaping cup of Parmesan Cheese, Grated, Divided
  • 15 oz cottage cheese (the smaller the curd, the better)
  • 1 whole Egg
  • 2-3 handfuls of spinach, washed and chopped
  • 1 tsp dried basil or a few leaves of the fresh stuff if you've got it
  • Salt And Pepper, to taste
You're going to start with the sauce because it takes longer. First, heat up the olive oil in a large skillet. When that's hot, but not bubbling, toss in the diced onion and crushed garlic cloves. Let those cook away until the onions start to get all soft and fragrant. When that happens, add in a pound of ground beef. Break that up so it's in small, bite-size pieces and let it brown, stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, get water boiling and cook the pasta shells as directed, but only for half the time. I kind of forgot the HALF part, so I think my shells were too soft and that's why they ripped easily. Fortunately, cheese works as a good glue to hold things together!
Ground beef + onions + garlic + spinach + tomatoes + wine = happy smelling kitchen
Going back to the sauce, once the meat is all browned, drain off the fat, but reserve 1 tsp-tbsp. This can be hard to do or get it all the way drained, so feel free to put the meat, onion and garlic on a plate covered with paper towels and pat it like you would for bacon. When you've got the fat drained off, put the meat back in the pan with it's onion pals and introduce it to a half cup of red wine. Let them make friends and bubble away for a few minutes. Then add the crushed tomatoes and some pieces of chopped spinach. I also had some leftover pasta sauce, so I added that. Let that all simmer in the pan for awhile. I would give it at least 15 minutes.

By now your pasta is done. Drain it and set it aside. So that you don't get ANOTHER pan dirty, you should put in the spoonful of reserved meat juice in the pot that you cooked the noodles in. Take the two large handfuls of spinach and chop it up. Put the chopped spinach in the pot and let it cook down. If you don't, all the water from the spinach will make the shells kind of runny. Once those are all limp-looking, then you should take them out of the pot so they can cool. You can always put it in the fridge or freezer to cool quickly.

Our house was chilly, so I just set it on a plate on the counter.
I have no idea how that one onion jumped in with the spinach.
While you are waiting for the sauce, it is time to make the cheesy shell stuffing and pre-heat the oven to 350. This is a lot like the cheese you would mix together for lasagna. In a big bowl, combine the ricotta, cottage and half of the Parmesan cheese. Add in one egg. Sprinkle with dried basil. Mix that all up. If the spinach has cooled, stir it in the cheese mix. It is important that it doesn't cook the egg. Otherwise, you get this weird spinach-y-egg-y thing going on that looks gross.

Not that this looks much better, but there are no weird half scrambled egg bits.
Take a 9x13 pan (or two 8x8 pans if you're cooking for two and want to have a freezer meal) and cover the bottom of the pan with the meat sauce. Fill the shells with your cheese mix by the spoonful. Don't worry if the pasta rips because the cheese will hold it together. Place the filled shells open-side-down on the meat sauce. Repeat until you have that pan full! Cover with the remaining sauce and the Parmesan cheese that you saved. You saved it, didn't you?
Shell o'cheese

Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees uncovered. This is enough time to run two miles and walk a little cool down. Or if you discovered that you and your husband under-dressed for running in the snow, run about a mile and then come inside and do this abs/core routine:

  • 10 sit ups 
  • 10 leg lifts 
  • 10 side leg lifts 
  • 10 push ups 
  • 10 side leg lifts on the other side
  • Repeat! I go around so I'm on my back, my right side, my stomach, my left side and then back again.
If you're really speedy, you can even do some of the dirty dishes from making the sauce, throw in a load of laundry or run back outside to take a picture of the snow on your car for your blog and to show your friend Susan, who lives in Colorado and already had snow.

When it's all done, it's is basically stuffed shells with cheesy goodness that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. I would have called Ree just to thank her for this recipe if I could have tracked down her number. Lucky for her, I was in a cheesy coma enjoying a relaxing end to a weird Monday. Also, that would have been creepy, and I'm not like that.


  1. AWWW Thanks for mentioning me!! I feel so special to get mentioned :D

  2. I feel so special that you're reading and commenting! Thanks Susan!
    P.S. 80% of the snow was gone by this morning. Ugh.

  3. our snow is usually gone within 24 to 48 hours unless it's like 3 feet!

  4. That's a bummer. We're supposed to get 50's this weekend, but we're hoping to get more snow for my sister's wedding. Just a nice little dusting.
    Miss you!