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Ricotta-Stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce

A few years back, my youngest sister suggested making this dish for my father when we were at his house for dinner.  As he’s now back to bachelor-style fare, with my mother being ill, he doesn’t have pasta very often.  For some reason, he won’t fix it for himself, which we all find odd, as it is one of those things that we all learned how to cook early on in learning how to feed ourselves.  With these Ricotta-stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce, we also discovered that we had a niece/nephew-friendly dish as well, so it is in the rotation of possible menu selections for their visits.

I found this in the back of a cabinet when I cleaned out my parents’ kitchen

I offer it here as a second-to-last Lenten Friday dinner option, just as you can’t face one more tuna dish or going out for pizza again on a Friday night.  Throw in a salad and garlic bread to make it complete – red and white checked tablecloth optional.  Candle in Chianti bottle is even more optional.  This is also a good way to use up some of the Easy Tomato Sauce if you have any of that still on hand.  I made half a batch of the Ricotta-Stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce for the purposes of this demo, as you’ll see from the photos.  The leftovers are great, too, but I didn’t want to have them around for a week.  To feel the hungry hoard at my folks’ house, we double the recipe.

Ricotta-stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce

Prep-time: 1 hour (with cooking)

Serving size: 4-6 shells per adult

Ingredients:

Ricotta-stuffed Pasta Shells:

24 Jumbo Pasta Shells

1 15-oz. container Ricotta Cheese

1 1/2 c. Parmesan Cheese, grated

1/2 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. Black Pepper, ground

1/4 tsp. Nutmeg, ground

2 Tbsp. Parsley, curly-style Italian, fresh, chopped

2 Egg Yolks (save whites for another use)

Savory Tomato Sauce:

1 tsp. Salt

1 c. Onion, cut into small dice

1 Tbsp. Garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

2 1/2 c. Easy Tomato Sauce

3/4 tsp. Oregano, dried

1 Tbsp. Parsley, curly-style Italian, fresh, chopped

Assembly:

Put a large pan of water on the stove to boil. When the water has reached a rollicking, bubbling state, add the salt and let the water come to the boil again.  While the pasta water is boiling and the shells are cooking, make the Spicy Tomato Sauce.

Put oil in large saucepan and let it warm over low heat.

Add onions and raise the heat a little bit.  Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the onions are translucent and soft.

Add garlic, stir into onions, and let cook for about 1 minute more, making sure not to let it burn or turn golden.

Add red pepper flakes.  You can adjust the amount to your taste.  The goal is to perk up the sauce to provide a lively balance to the heavy cheese, not to make it super-spicy.

Add Easy Tomato Sauce and stir to incorporate. [If the pasta water is boiling at this point, add the shells and then return to making the sauce.]

Add the dried oregano and chopped, fresh Italian parsley and stir into the sauce.  Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.  Leave to continue cooking over low heat while preparing the Ricotta-stuffed Pasta Shells.

If you haven’t already done so, put the pasta shells into the boiling salted water and let them cook according to the package instructions.

Once cooked through, drain pasta and let it cool while fixing the cheese filling.

Pour the ricotta into a medium-sized bowl.

Add 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese.

Add salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and ground nutmeg to the cheeses.

Add chopped, fresh Italian parsley to the cheeses and seasoning.

Mix seasonings and ingredients into the cheeses and blend together thoroughly.

Add egg yolk to cheese mixture and stir to blend it completely into the cheese mixture.

The mixture will have a slight yellow-ish hue from the egg yolk, and the ricotta mixture will be creamy.  It was about this point that I realized that I had just made the classic filling for cheese ravioli, as I’d learned in my pasta making course last year.

Put a couple of spoonfuls of the pasta sauce in the pan and spread it around to coat the bottom of it.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Carefully open up the cooked pasta shells and fill each of them with a couple of tablespoons of the ricotta mixture.

Place the cheese-stuffed shells in the pan.

Continue filling the shells with cheese and putting them in the pan, lined up beside each other.  When we make this for our family, it becomes a team effort, with my sister recruiting me and her boyfriend to help her stuff the shells, to get that double batch of them in the oven for dinner.

Cover the pasta shells with the tomato sauce, using about 2 cups of it.  Sprinkle the sauce-covered stuffed shells with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.

Cover the pan with foil and place in the oven to cook for 25-30 minutes, until the shells are heated through and the cheese is all melted.

Gently pull back the foil, allowing for the oohs and aahs to escape from everyone’s lips at the beauty and wonder of this gorgeous pasta dish.

Serve the shells immediately and bask in everyone’s contented smiles.  The tangy-tart sauce with a hint of heat (but not overly-spicy) helps balance the rich, creamy cheesiness of the stuffed shells.  This recipe has definitely become a crowd-pleaser around my folks’ house.

Buon appetito!