Spinach & Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms in Tomato Sauce

Stuffed mushrooms make a delicious appetizer for any occasion.  They can be stuffed with anything you like, seafood, charcuterie, all sorts of cheeses, all kinds of vegetables … the list goes on.  They can be a part of a delicious brunch, dinner, or can be served as tapas.  I made them recently for my daughter’s birthday party as part of her special birthday dinner.   They were a hit with everyone!

SPINACH AND CHEESE STUFFED MUSHROOMS IN TOMATO SAUCE
STUFFING

3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 large Shallots – finely chopped
1.5 lbs Cremini or Button Mushrooms – stems removed and set aside
4 cups Baby Spinach – loosely packed
2 Lemons – zested
1 1/2  cups shredded aged white English Cheddar – Barber’s 1833
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

TOMATO SAUCE

2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 large Garlic cloves
6 ripe Tomatoes – puréed
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
Pinch Red Chili Flakes

Begin by cleaning the mushrooms with a damp paper towel or a wooden pastry brush, which is what I prefer to use.  Gently remove the stems from the caps, and place them in a separate bowl to the side.  With a small spoon, remove the gills from the mushroom caps, and discard them.  Finely chop the mushroom stems, and set aside.

In a sauté pan on medium high heat, sauté the shallots and mushroom stems in the olive oil, until they are soft and translucent.  Chop the spinach and add it to the sauté pan.  Cook the spinach and mushroom mixture, until the spinach is completely wilted.  Add the lemon zest and stir.  Add salt and pepper to taste, then turn the heat off.  Allow the spinach and mushroom mixture to cool down to room temperature.  Start making the tomato sauce in the meantime.  After the mixture has cooled, add the shredded cheese and stir to incorporate all the ingredients together.

Peel and smash the garlic with your knife.  In a braiser or sauce pan on medium heat, sauté the garlic in the olive oil.  Make sure not to burn the garlic, as it tends to get very bitter.  Add a pinch of red chili flakes to the pan.  Quarter the tomatoes and purée them in a blender.  After the garlic has softened, add the tomato purée to the pan.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Allow the sauce to simmer for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Stuff the mushroom caps with the spinach and mushroom stem mixture.  When the tomato sauce has reduced and thickened, ladle it into an oven proof casserole dish.  Place the stuffed mushroom caps over the sauce in the casserole dish, and bake them in the oven for 30 minutes.  When the mushroom caps have cooked through, and the cheese has melted (after 30 minutes in the oven), remove the casserole dish from the oven, and allow it to rest for a few minutes before serving.  Serve the stuffed mushrooms with the sauce and enjoy!


Ricotta & Pecorino Romano Stuffed Pasta Shells

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.**

THE SAUCE

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!