SPINACH & THREE CHEESE STUFFED PASTA SHELLS
10 April 2008
There comes a time in every girls life where she has to face facts – that if ones beloved husband, boyfriend, fiancé (mine very much included in this list…) brother, partner, father, the list is long but distinguished here, has become an official OFFICE MOLE – one of those very dedicated, over achieving, hard workers, who should basically set up camp under their desk, you are going to have to join the ranks of those who triumphed over the work pile! It will not take an army, nor a city wide power shortage, you loosing your mind, or having a shout, all you need is your OVEN and a couple of ingredients.
Now the saying goes that you may be able to bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, but I can tell you – you can bring a hungry overworked man to the table and believe me he will eat!! The story is the same if the roles of the sexes are reversed. So if you are going to lure them out of their den, you need to make it worth their while. Which got me to thinking about an Italian dish my colleague Melissa made last year – one that had so much success that no sooner had she placed the platter on the table but the dish was clean. I figured that this would do the trick.
My first attempt at RICOTTA STUFFED PASTA SHELLS,produced a dish that while savoury, was a little dry for my liking and lack that unctuous creamy quality Italian cooking is so famous for. Melissa’s shells however are filled with three types of cheese which solves this problem. Like many cooks who are comfortable in the kitchen, she cooks by her nose and not necessarily by the book, so I had to invent my own proportions etc based on the ingredients she normally uses. Half the fun of cooking is the art of improvisation & personalisation!
RECIPE – SWEET PEA Blog
Stuffed Past Shells Ingredients:
- 35 conchiglioni rigati (large pasta shells N°126 from De Cecco)
- 125g ricotta cheese
- 125g cottage cheese
- 100g mozzarella cheese
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 250g fresh large leaf garden spinach
- 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg, well beaten
- 80g of Gruyere cheese to sprinkle over shells before baking
Homemade Tomato Sauce Ingredients:
- 400g chopped tomatoes (or 1 1/2 cans)
- 4 generous tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 a medium white onion, finely chopped
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 2 dried laural (bay) leaves
- 1 whole clove
- 2 cardamon pods
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper to taste
Prepare the tomato sauce FIRST!
Start by finely chopping your tomatoes & then onion and set aside. Now in a sauce pan, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the laural leaves, clove and cardamon pods and cook for a minute. Now add the onions. Let cook until unions turn soft and translucent. Now add the minced garlic.
Next add the chopped tomatoes, salt and pepper. Stir well. REDUCE the heat to low and leave to simmer gently for at least 10 minutes so that most of the excess water from the tomatoes has evaporated. Set the sauce aside.
COOKS TRICK : If you are using out of season or canned tomatoes & find your sauce a little sour, you can always add a sprinkle of white sugar!!
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F
SHELL preparation: Fill a very large saucepan 3/4 full with water. Add two generous teaspoons of salt and bring to the boil. Now add your pasta shell and cook for 5 minutes. Drain the shells rinsing them well with cold water and set aside.
SPINACH preparation: Wash the leaves well and remove the stalks. Place in a large heat proof bowl. Wilting : Boil 1L of water in a kettle and then pour over the spinach leaves. Cover well and leave to stand for 5-10 minutes until the leaves have wilted and are soft. Drain the spinach, removing as much water as possible. Now cut the leave up into small pieces and set aside.
FILLING preparation:Chop the mozzarella into very small 1/2cm cubes and place in a large mixing bowl. Next add the ricotta & cottage cheese, minced garlic clove, nutmeg, salt, pepper, chopped spinach, and beaten egg and mix very well.
STUFFING shells: You will need about 30 of the shells you cooked. Line the base of a oven safe cooking dish with a thick layer of the tomato sauce. Now take the shells one by one and using a small teaspoon fill to the top with the cheese/spinach filling, and place on the bed of tomato sauce with the cheese side facing up.
Grate the Gruyere (or cheddar) cheese and sprinkle over the top of the shells. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 20-30 minutes.
NOTE: an alternative method is to make twice the sauce and to cover the top of the shells with sauce and then sprinkle with your desired cheese (mozzarella, Gruyere, cheddar) and then bake.