Stuffed Shells For A Wintery Night

This snowy Wine & Dine Wednesday post is brought to you by my husband, Mr. Sive. Quite often when I post photos of the tables I set, people ask, “But what did you eat?” This is a TPS classic, which he has been making for many years.

A few days ago we had the rare treat of a snowy night at WestWard. This meal was inspired by that, a bottle of hearty red TKW had recently at a tasting, our shared love of all things pasta, and the desire for a homey fireside meal.  

Stuffed shells is a Watson/Sive standby, and this night I wanted a “stick to your ribs” version, with a sauce thick enough to stay with the bits of shell and pasta, and not slip off. There’s a lot going on in this version, with a variety of flavors and a good hearty result.  

Cook a 12oz box of ‘Jumbo Shells’ al dente, and drain in cold water to stop the cooking. Toss them in a bit of EVOO.

While that’s going on, prepare the sauce. Cut up enough carrots, sliced in half and then 1/4 inch thick, for a cup or more total. Pour a few good glugs of EVOO in your favorite dutch oven, heat up and then add the carrots. (We just replaced our Le Creuset, as the old one was beyond lovingly used!) After a minute or two, add 1 medium yellow onion, chopped fairly large. (You want the onions and carrots to still be in chunks after all the cooking and baking.) Sauté until soft and just turning brown. Add about 1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian sausage (or sweet and spicy mixed) and sauté until the sausage is just cooked through. Add 4 cloves of finely minced garlic, and cook a couple minutes longer. Add one 28-ounce can of pureed San Marzano tomatoes, one 6-ounce can of tomato paste, and 1 cup of red wine, and bring to a good simmer. Add a good amount of fresh thyme or oregano (I used the leaves from 8 sprigs), salt and pepper to taste, and leave on a low simmer while you’re assembling other ingredients. Add more wine as needed, but you’ll want a thick sauce.

In a large sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons each of butter and EVOO to hot. Sauté 24 or so small crimini mushrooms, halved. The mushrooms will absorb all the liquid and start to caramelize. Just as they start to shed liquid, take off the heat and place in a small bowl. (Later, add the liquid that drains from the mushrooms to the tomato sauce).

In another bowl (I utilized the just-used and cooled pasta cooker to save cleaning!) add a 32-ounce container of ricotta cheese, 1 egg, and half of a 5-ounce plastic container of baby arugula, very lightly chopped. Mix just until all the ingredients are evenly distributed. Stuff the shells with the ricotta mixture, about 2 tablespoons in each shell. Don’t worry about being exact!

Now, to assemble. I typically prepare this in two batches, each in a pie sized pan, and freeze one for later cooking, each pan serving four normal people (or slightly fewer hungry Teds). You can certainly make it one large pot. Lightly coat your dish with more EVOO, and add enough sauce to just cover the bottom. Place the shells in one tightly packed layer. Spread the mushrooms evenly, tucking them between the shells. Spread the remaining tomato sauce over the top with a rubber spatula, to tuck it into the nooks and crannies. Lastly, evenly distribute on the top 8-ounces of grated sharp white cheddar. Yes, we’re mixing the English/Irish and the Italian! The zing and creaminess of the cheddar is a great compliment to the hearty tomato and sausage, and contrasts well with the light ricotta.

Bake at 375, covered loosely with foil, for 40ish minutes. You can serve after just a couple minutes of letting it all rest. With those vegetables and protein and cheese and greens, this is a great one-dish meal. Especially for a snowy winter evening…

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