It got down into the 40’s here last weekend. THE 40’s! In NOVEMBER! In FLORIDA! That almost never happens. Don’t tell anyone, but I might have even turned the heat on in the house for a second or two. Apparently, I’m turning into a weather wimp. With each passing year my bones seem to chill a bit quicker as I get more sensitive to the cold. Don’t judge me. This will someday happen to most of you too.
Before the temperature crept back up into the 70’s, I took advantage of the situation and also did some cool weather cooking. Being Thanksgiving weekend, I made the requisite turkey barley soup. I baked a few things too. And, I made Sausage and Cheese Stuffed Shells, because nothing says warm and cozy more than meaty and cheesy baked pasta.
Remember that recipe for homemade Ricotta I told you about a few months back? Pretty amazing stuff, huh? And, you can use it in so many different dishes too! I know that I already gave you some suggestions in my original post, but I want to share one more ricotta recipe with you, because a) It’s awesome; b) It’s one of my family’s favorites; and c) It’s awesome. Did I say awesome twice? Well, I meant it. These stuffed shells really are…well…awesome.
To make this dish you don’t really need to use homemade ricotta. It will still be quite delicious if you don’t. And, I don’t want you to not try it just because you don’t feel like making ricotta – although it’s pretty simple to make. But, the fresh stuff really does take it up a notch.
Aside from the ricotta, the thing that makes this dish special is the addition of Italian sausage instead of regular old ground beef. The sausage already has lots of tasty spices and seasonings in it. Just remove the meat from the casings, crumble it up and brown it in a skillet. You can use either sweet or hot sausage. I like to mix it up and use a little of both.
You’ll also need several cups of marinara sauce. If you have the time to make a fresh batch, go for it. If not, any good quality jarred sauce will do – and there are many. One of my favorite sauce recipes is Mario Batali’s Basic Tomato Sauce. And, he just so happens to have a line of pasta sauces, including this one, that you can find at many supermarkets. I’ve tried it and it’s pretty good.
Putting this dish together is easy peasy. Cook your pasta shells (large ones, please) until they are al dente, or firm to the bite. I usually boil them a little less than I would if I were going to just serve them with a sauce. Don’t overcook them, because they will continue to cook in the oven. Once my pasta shells are cooked and drained, I fill them with a mixture of sausage, cheese and eggs, and arrange them in a baking dish. Next, I pour the sauce over them and top with lots of mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Then, I bake them until they are all browned and bubbling.
Now, if this hearty, homey, stick-to-your-ribs, Italian comfort food doesn’t take the chill out of your bones, I don’t know what will.
Sausage and Cheese Stuffed Shells
- 12-ounce box jumbo pasta shells
- 1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage, casings removed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 32-ounces whole milk ricotta
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons minced, fresh, flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons minced, fresh basil leaves
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- 4 cups prepared marinara sauce, homemade or jarred
- Preheat oven to 375 F. Bring a large pot filled with water to a boil.
- Cook pasta shells according to manufacturer’s instructions. Drain and rinse with cool water. Line shells on a large baking sheet lined with wax paper or aluminum foil and set aside.
- Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Crumble the sausage into the skillet and fry until lightly browned. Using a wooden spoon, break the meat into small bits as it cooks. You don’t want any big chunks.
- Combine cooked sausage, ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella, 1/2 cup Parmesan, eggs, parsley, basil, salt and pepper together in a large bowl and mix well.
- Pour enough marinara sauce in a 9×13 baking dish to cover the bottom of the dish, about 1 1/2 cups. Fill each pasta shell with about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of the filling, and line the baking dish with the shells. Ladle the rest of the marinara on top. Sprinkle with the rest of the mozzarella and Parmesan, cover with foil and bake until bubbly, about 30-35 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for another 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is gooey and melted and begins to brown.
- Remove and let stand about 10 minutes before serving.
- Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for up to a week, or frozen for up to 3 months.