Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Mama Mia: It's Stuffed Shells!

Sometimes you just don't feel like cooking, but everyone still expects dinner on the table. The nerve, right? This is one of those recipes that you can make ahead and freeze, and then pull out just what you need.  I happily set aside a couple of hours to make a double batch: stuff the shells, and then freeze them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Then I place meal-sized batches in plastic freezer bags and pop them back into the freezer for future use. Meal prep then consists of pulling them out of the freezer, letting them thaw for an hour or so, then placing them in a single layer in a greased baking dish with some tomato-based pasta sauce, slathering them with shredded parmesan cheese, and popping them into the oven. Add a salad and you're good to go. Dinner is done! You can also use a single entire recipe to feed a horde up to 6 on the day you make them, too. The choice is yours.

Cheese Stuffed Shells 
this recipe will serve 6; it's also a great recipe to double for a crowd, or made ahead and freeze into smaller batches for meals; I usually double this recipe just for this reason
16 to 20 pasta super shells
12 ounces or more whole milk ricotta cheese
4 ounces or more shredded mozzarella cheese
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
pepper to taste
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic 
2 teaspoons finely minced parsley
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese + another 1/2 cup for the top
Marinara or other tomato-based pasta sauce -- about 36 oz.

Cook the shells in 6 quarts of boiling salted water for 12 minutes. Drain, then run cold water over them to stop cooking. Drain again, and place shells on paper towels to completely drain and cool.

Mix together the ricotta, mozzarella, egg, salt, pepper, garlic, parsley and parmesan cheese until well combined. Stuff each shell with enough cheese mixture to fill it but not overfill it -- shell edges should be able to meet. 

At this point, you can freeze them on a cookie sheet for about 2 hours, or until solid. Then place enough shells for a meal (allowing 3 or 4 shells per person) in a freezer bag and freeze until needed. Or continue onward for immediate use:

If using all of the shells immediately, butter or oil a lasagna pan or 9 x 13 pan, then add 1 cup of pasta/marinara sauce to the bottom of the pan. Lay all the shells in a single layer on the sauce, then top with another two cups or so over the shells. Cover tightly with foil and bake in a preheated 350 degrees Farenheit oven for 35 minutes; uncover and top with the additional parmesan cheese and bake 10 minutes longer. 

Note: If you are making a smaller batch from your frozen stash, then use an appropriately sized baking dish for the amount of shells you are baking -- as well as a proportional amount of sauce and parmesan for the topping -- for the pan. I use a 8 x 8 inch baking dish when making 8 shells (enough for two hungry diners).

PSS: You can also add a bag/box of frozen spinach that's been of cooked and drained dry to the cheese filling for a Florentine version of Stuffed Shells.

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