Most of the time, I could care less about cooking. It’s something I do when I want to eat, and that’s about it. There was a time, though, when I was open to learning to make whatever I liked that was good, easy, and not too expensive. This ‘time’ just *happened* to be when I first moved out on my own and didn’t have anyone else to cook for me! You know what they say, necessity breeds invention. I got bored (and hungry) one night and decided it might be fun to try to imitate one of my favorite Italian dishes: cheese-stuffed shells. I’m happy to say that it turned out quite well! Now it is something i like to make when I want something different from usual or when I am cooking for other people. Mostly I’ve made this for myself and my husband, but the recipe below will serve about 3-4 people. Like many, I’ve played around with the recipe and added or subtracted things to suit my whims at the moment, so the amounts of some of the ingredients don’t have to be exact.
However, this is the way I generally make this recipe…a huge hit with my friends and roommates!
Here’s a basic rundown of what you will need:
12 jumbo pasta shells (I use Mueller’s, this is about half the box)
14-16 oz ricotta cheese
Mozzarella, romano, parmesan, provolone, asiago cheeses (shredded, 2 oz each, to taste)
Oregano, italian seasoning, parsley flakes, cilantro leaves, garlic (roughly 1 tbsp each, to taste)
A 20-26 oz jar of pasta sauce (any kind-pesto is especially tasty!)
Preheat the oven to 375. Put the shells in a large pot and cover with water to boil. While you are boiling the pasta, put the ricotta cheese in a bowl and ‘chop it up’ with a spoon to even it out. Some people put an egg white in with the cheese, but you don’t have to. Mix all of the other cheeses and spices into the bowl and stir them to get an even distribution.
It usually helps to put everything in in ’stages’ rather than all at once, because you might decide you want more of some things than others. Either way, use the spices and the cheeses to your taste, but keep a bit of the shredded cheeses to the side for later use. At this time, the shells will probably be finished boiling-you’ll want them to be a little ‘harder’ than you would normally make pasta because you will need to fill them with the cheese using a spoon. They will also cook more with the baking once the sauce is added. When you take the pot off of the stove and drain the shells, rinse them with cold water and let them sit for a few minutes. I usually use an about 6×6 oven-safe dish. As the shells cool, go ahead and use a spoon to fill the shells with the cheese and spice mixture. Lay them side by side in the pan, but you can squeeze in any ‘extra’ shells as you wish. Don’t worry if you don’t put the same amount of cheese into each shell, because it will all even out. Open the jar of pasta sauce and pour the desired amount on top of the pasta; some sauce should be going down in between the shells. Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the top, put it in the oven, and bake for 30-35 minutes. You can shorten or lengthen cooking time to your desire, but I like to have the cheese on top to be a bit ’scorched’. Let sit five minutes after removal from the oven, and enjoy!
As you can see, the recipe isn’t really hard to do. However, it *does* take a lot of time to prepare and to cook, so it’s not something I’d do if I just wanted something quick. It makes up for this in one way, though; Like most pasta dishes, it is very filling. When I make this for mysef and my husband, we can get two or three meals out of any normal-sized batch! That’s another skill I perfected during college and after moving out…stretching meals out.
I hope you enjoy it. Like I said, I’ve tweaked the recipe over time to suit whatever whim, so feel free to do the same.