I learned to make stuffed shells when I was just a wee lad working at Geno’s. Geno’s is no more but I still remember a thing or two that I learned at my first restaurant job. This isn’t the exact recipe. It’s been kicked up a notch or two but it still has the same basic underpinnings. Jumbo shell pasta, tomato sauce and cheese filling.
The filling for the stuffed shells is mostly from Geno’s original recipe. I’ve just added some more ingredients for flavour. I also didn’t include an egg yolk to help bind it together but there’s nothing stopping you from adding that in if you fancy it. The cheese for the filling is a combination of ricotta and cottage cheese. A little more cottage cheese than ricotta. I also added olive oil, garlic powder, smoked paprika, salt, pepper and a little parsley for flavour.
I learned a valuable trick for preparing pasta for stuffing during my time at Geno’s as well. You need to under cook the pasta. This is done for two reasons. Firstly… If it’s cooked to perfection it will likely tear or fall apart when you try to stuff it. Secondly… it’s going to cook some more when you cover it in sauce and bake it in the oven. The trick is to find the point when the shells are soft but before they are al dente. When that sweet spot is reached put the whole pot in the sink and run cold water into it until everything has cooled enough that you can handle it with bare hands. This stops the cooking process quickly so your shells stay at your desired doneness.
2 – 28 oz. cans of whole tomatoes (I like San Marzano tomatoes)
1 medium onion – diced
3 cloves of garlic – minced
1 1/2 cups of dry white wine
10 – 12 leaves of fresh basil – chopped
3 – 4 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil in a pan on medium high heat and add the onion. Cook the onion until it is translucent and then add the garlic. Let the garlic cook for about 1 minute and douse with the white wine. let the wine reduce for a few minutes. There are two ways to deal with the tomatoes. You can crush each one by hand for a more rustic chunky sauce or dump the tomatoes in a blender and blend for a smoother sauce. For this recipe I like a smoother sauce so I chose to blend the tomatoes. Put you hand crushed or blended tomatoes in the pot and continue cooking until the flavours blend nicely (maybe 30 minutes or so). Add the salt, pepper and basil close to the end of cooking and you’re ready to use this sauce with the stuffed pasta.
makes 2 large baking dishes of shells
1 – 16 oz package of jumbo shell pasta
750 ml cottage cheese
500 ml ricotta cheese
1 package of Italian cheese blend shredded cheese
1/4 cup olive oil (I just eyeball this anyway)
2 tbsp garlic powder
2 tsp smoked parika
salt and pepper to taste
10 – 12 leaves of fresh basil – hand torn
Prosciutto or prosciuttini – hand torn
Under cook the pasta in the method that I mention above. Set up an assembly line with cooked shells on one end, filling in the middle and the baking dish at the other end. Cove the bottom of the baking dish with a layer of tomato sauce. Use a teaspoon to scoop up a bit of filling and then stuff it in the shell. I could fit 24 to 30 shells in my pan depending on how close I want to squish the shells. A lower number seems to work a little better for cooking. Once your pan is full enough cover the shells with more tomato sauce and add some hand torn basil and prosciutto on top. Cover with shredded cheese and bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minute to an hour. This recipe makes enough pasta to fill two large baking dishes so cut it in half if you only want to make one. This tastes freakin’ awesome so you’ll probably want to make both (trust me).