Pasta dishes can be very easy and simple to make, yet cooking the pasta to al dente is not such an easy task for most. Al dente, which means ‘to the tooth’ in Italian, is where the pasta is cooked through, but still retains some resistance or chewiness in the center. Make sure to have enough boiling salted water, in which the pasta can cook and swim freely. If the water is not salted enough (like sea water), the pasta will be bland and flavorless. Also, wet or fresh pasta cooks at a much faster rate than dried pasta. And certain sauces go with different pastas, depending on their shapes and sizes … but that is for another post.
I found these very pretty imported and bronze cut pasta shells at a specialty store a few weekends ago. I decided to use them for a stuffed shell dish. Since I had some Ricotta cheese and many tomatoes to use, I made a stuffing out of the Ricotta cheese and a few other ingredients, and a very fast and simple sauce out of the tomatoes. I then put the sauce on top of the shells, and topped them with a generous amount of one of my favorite cheeses, Pecorino Romano. Into the oven, and then on the table. My family loved this dish! I hope you enjoy it as well.
RICOTTA AND PECORINO ROMANO STUFFED PASTA SHELLS
17.6 oz (1 bag) bronze cut Pasta Shells or any kind you prefer
2 tablespoons organic Butter
2 large Shallots
2 large Garlic cloves
30 oz whole milk Ricotta Cheese
2 cups grated Pecorino Romano** – filling
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
2 cups grated Percorino Romano** – topping
Basil to garnish
**When using Pecorino Romano, please be careful not to over salt your food, as this cheese is very salty on its own.**
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 small yellow Onion
2 large Garlic cloves
8 ripe Tomatoes
2 tablespoons fresh Basil – chopped
1 tablespoon fresh Oregano – chopped
2 teaspoons Salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
1 tablespoon Sugar
Begin by finely chopping the shallots and garlic. In a sauté pan on medium low heat, sauté the shallots and garlic in butter. Once they are caramelized, take them off the heat, and allow them to cool.
In a large bowl, add the ricotta cheese, 2 cups of the grated Pecorino Romano, the cooled shallots and garlic, salt, and freshly ground pepper. Stir to combine, then taste to make sure the seasoning is right. Leave the stuffing to the side, while you cook the pasta and make the sauce.
In a very large pot of boiling salted water, add the pasta, and immediately stir to keep the shells from sticking together. Closely monitor the pasta, as the cooking time depends on its dryness and thickness. Do not cook the pasta to al dente. The shells need to be undercooked by a few minutes, as they will finish cooking in the oven. You do not want mushy pasta. When the shells are a bit undercooked, drain them from the pasta liquid, and set them to the side. Make sure to reserve some pasta water, in case the sauce is too thick.
Roughly chop the onion, garlic, tomatoes, basil, and oregano. In a pot on medium heat, begin sautéing the onions and garlic in olive oil. After about 5 minutes, add the tomatoes, oregano, basil, salt, and freshly ground pepper. Allow the tomatoes to cook down for about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the sugar, stir, and then cook for another few minutes. Taste the sauce, to make sure the seasoning is right. Place the sauce in a blender, and purée it until it is very smooth.
ASSEMBLING THE PASTA SHELLS
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Ladle a couple of scoops of the puréed sauce into an oven safe casserole dish. This will keep the pasta from sticking to the dish. You can use a small spoon, a small plastic bag, or a pastry bag to stuff the shells with the Ricotta filling. Place each stuffed shell in the casserole dish, until it is full. Ladle the rest of the sauce over the shells, and place them in the oven for 30 minutes. Take the shells out of the oven, and top them with the last 2 cups of the Pecorino Romano. Grind some black pepper on top of the cheese, and place the shells back in the oven for about 15 minutes, until the cheese has melted and is golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve with some fresh basil leaves. Enjoy!