My mom’s half Italian. She taught me how to make four things before I went away to college. One of them was spaghetti sauce. I make my sauce a little differently now than when I first tried my hand at it (pretty much anything I made the first semester I had a kitchen in college that wasn’t microwavable was borderline inedible. Thank god my husband didn’t fall in love with me for culinary skills).
We always have pasta in this house. ALWAYS. We have an entire cabinet filled with various kinds of pasta. I wanted something a little different, though, tonight. I had sauce leftover from Christmas that I’d frozen, way more than I’d need for spaghetti. So stuffed shells it is.
I should confess this: I don’t measure anything. It drives my sister insane (sometimes me, too) when one of us is trying to repeat an original recipe because I just sort of shake stuff out of bottles or dump it in my hand and then throw it in the pot. Because I’ve made this dish a hundred times, the measurement of the spices is approximate. My rule of thumb about garlic, especially, is if you like it, use as much as you want. If you don’t, use the bare minimum or omit.
- 1 package Barilla jumbo shells (or whatever brand you prefer)
- 1 32 oz container part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 egg
- dash nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- pinch of salt
- couple twists of freshly ground pepper
- at least four cups spaghetti sauce, more if you like your shells saucy (recipe below)
- 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 350.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add salt just water bubbles, then add shells. Cook the shells for nine minutes (you want at least 3 minutes shy of al dente). Drain in a colander and set aside until cool enough to handle. If you’re worried about the shells sticking in the colander, coat them with just a little bit of olive oil. Some of them will still stick and you will probably lose a few. I don’t usually end up needing a whole box, but I always cook one just in case.
For the filling, empty the ricotta into a mixing bowl. Add the egg, parmesan cheese, nutmeg, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Stir until the egg is well incorporated and you can’t see the yolk anymore.
Using a large baking glass baking dish (or two medium sized ones), spread a couple ladlefuls of sauce on the bottom of the pan so the shells won’t stick while cooking. If you’re using jarred sauce (and I won’t judge you for it. We use jarred sauce plenty in this house, but for something like this I prefer homemade), you’ll probably need two jars for this whole meal. You want enough sauce to cover the bottom of the dish, but not so much that your shells will drown in the bottom.
Spoon the filling into the shells and lay filling side up into the sauce. You can leave space between the shells or you can pack them in tightly; up to you. I leave a little space between mine because I like to have extra sauce in the dish for bread at the table. Once your baking dish is full, ladle the remainder of your sauce over the shells until the shells are smothered in sauce. Cover the shells with shredded mozzarella cheese.
Cover the dish with foil and bake in the oven for at least 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake at least another 10 minutes or until cheese is hot and bubbly. If you like your mozzarella to brown up and bubble, keep in the oven until it does so but remove it immediately.
I usually serve this with a green salad and garlic bread.
This is my barebones version of the sauce. There’s lots of ways to dress this up, but this is the basic version I use for dishes like this. If you want to make this a meat sauce (I didn’t because I needed a break from meat), saute 1.5 lbs of ground beef while you saute the onion. This will make A LOT of sauce. It freezes well.
- 1 medium onion, very finely chopped
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, grated with a microplane or minced very finely
- 2 28 oz cans no salt added crushed tomatoes
- 2 28 oz cans tomato puree
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, cut into small ribbons
- 2 tsp dried oregano (I can never find fresh, if you can, go for it. It’s infinitely better)
- 1/2 cup (or more if you love the taste) good red wine, like a cabernet sauvignon
- pinch of sugar if your sauce is too acidic
Over medium high heat, in 1 tbsp olive oil, saute onions until soft and translucent. Add the garlic at the end and saute another 30 seconds. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato puree, red wine, and dried oregano. Simmer over medium low for half an hour, forty-five minutes. Stir in tomato paste and basil and simmer another ten minutes. If freezing, cool completely before doing so.