Tag Archives: tomatoes

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!

Eggs Cooked in Spicy Tomato Sauce

Last week, when I was working from home one day, I felt those familiar mid-day hunger twinges.  I’ve been trying to be very good about eating up whatever is I have on hand, so I did a little “fridge foraging” as I like to call it and came up with the ingredients to make Eggs Cooked in Spicy Tomato Sauce.  What was helpful for this little project was that I had a random selection of leftovers.  I really love leftovers and have never understood anyone who won’t eat them.  Some of my best creations have come from throwing together various bits of previous meals.  Of course, it did also help that this time around I had peppers and Tomato Sauce from my No-Knead Pizza Dough party, eggs (which I usually try to have on hand), and a piece of the incredibly delicious M’smen Bread from Hot Bread Kitchen.

Look what I found in my fridge

I became hooked on this flat, crepe-like bread when I tried it one day at the Union Square Greenmarket, where they have a stand a couple of days a week.  They also sell a version stuffed with things like ramps, onions, and/or cheese, which is what I’d picked up on a whim and had in my fridge, and it was the perfect “platter” for this meal.  That little plastic container in the front of the photo is the ringer for pulling this dish together.  A leftover tub of harissa from an expedition to a Turkish restaurant in my neighborhood.  Isn’t it amazing what you can find lurking on the shelves?  This simple dish, perfect for a quick lunch or dinner has some of my favorite flavor components: soft, buttery, doughy bread topped with a creamy egg surrounded by tangy-sweet, comforting tomato sauce and pepper with a bit of a kick and slow-release heat from the harissa.  I might even have to start planning to have leftovers on purpose so that I can make this again and again.

Eggs Cooked in Spicy Tomato Sauce

Prep Time: 30 minutes, if that

Serving Size: This is a recipe for 1 person, but can easily be expanded

Ingredients:

1 piece M’smen Bread (or flat bread)

1 tsp. Olive Oil

1/4 c. Marinated Red Peppers, drained and sliced

1/3 c. Easy Tomato Sauce

1/2 tsp. Harissa (or to taste)

1 Egg

Assembly:

M’smen ready for the oven

Heat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.  Put bread on a tray and heat it up while putting together the rest of the dish.

Start with heating the oil

Pour olive oil into small, shallow pan and warm it up over low heat for about 30 seconds.

Red peppers into the pan

Put the marinated red peppers and any spices from the jar into the pan.  Warm up for 30 seconds.  The spices from the peppers and the tomato sauce will season this dish.

Tomato sauce into the pan

Pour the tomato sauce into the pan with the peppers and oil and stir to mix together.  Warm up the mixture for another 30 seconds.

Harissa into the pan

Add harissa to the tomatoes and peppers in the pan.  Stir it into the peppers and tomato sauce to incorporate it and let it cook for another 30 seconds.  The mixture should begin to have a fragrant, acidic and spicy aroma from the various ingredients.  I did not add any extra seasoning in this dish as every one of these three items was seasoned when it was prepared.  You can use your own judgement and personal tastes about that.

Egg in a bowl

Crack the egg into a bowl.  I find that, when adding an egg into the cooking pan, it is easier to have it in a small, shallow bowl rather than to try to crack it directing into the pan.  This is also a better method in the event of any errant bits of shell falling into the cracked egg as then you can fish it out before putting the egg into the cooking pan.

Egg into the pan

Create a well with the sauce, leave a space in the middle of the pan.  Gently pour the egg into the well, trying to get the yolk in the center of the pan inasmuch as is possible.  When I made this dish, this was an exception, as I almost never get the yolk in the center of the pan.  For some reason, it decided to cooperate with me for this posting project.

Egg cooked in the sauce

Cook the egg in the sauce for about 4-5 minutes over medium to low heat, until the egg white has set completely and the sauce has created a thick nest around it.  I like my yolks a bit firmer, so about 3 minutes into the process, I put a lid over the pan and left it for a minute to steam.  Then, I took the lid off the pan and let everything cook for about 30 seconds more.  Turn off the oven and remove the bread during the last few minutes while the egg and sauce are cooking.

Plating the M’smen

Place the bread on a plate for serving.  It should be glistening and completely warmed through.

All assembled and ready to eat

Spoon up the tomato sauce from the pan and place it in a ring around the edge of the bread.  Delicately lift up the cooked egg and place it in the center of the sauce ring.  If you are expanding this dish to make it for more people,  make sure to allow for enough sauce (about 1/4-1/3 cup) per person so that there is ample to create this nest around the egg.

Lunch is served

I think the presentation of this dish with its dramatic color contrasts and the exotic perfume from the tomato-pepper-harissa mix is enough to brighten anyone’s day.  Cutting into the egg yolk, part creamy, part runny, letting it hit the tart-hot sauce and sopping up all that flavor with the buttery, flaky bread is just a beautiful contrast of flavors and textures making your mouth very, very happy.  The bread really is a key to this dish with its layered texture.  With the m’smen stuffed with onions and cheese there’s an additional grassy and tangy dairy note in the dish, too, which made it a little extra special for a mid-day meal

Buon appetito!

Kitchen Witch Tip:

As with the instructions on How to poach an Egg, use the freshest possible eggs for this dish, preferably ones from a farmers’ market, as those are likely to be only a few days old.  You can see the results in the photos from how beautifully the yolk set up in the white with this egg.  (It is not a stunt egg, by the way.)  I used the fabulous ones from Millport Dairy, available at the Greenmarket.