There are a lot of things to celebrate this week: GiustoGusto turns 3, another installment of Booze of the Month, and the holiday vacation officially begins. Apparently there’s some sort of Mexican-Apocalypse-thing that’s happening this week too, but that’s on the back burner. I have way too many things to eat and drink to worry about the armageddon, Bruce Willis will handle that ish for everyone.
To kickstart the holiday festivities I thought I’d share an oldie but goodie from the Italian-American guidebook to Christmas: Stuffed Shells.
Any combination of Marinara, Ricotta, and Pasta is going to be delicious, from Manicotti to Baked Ziti or the all-encompasing Timbale. But Stuffed Shells, or Conchiglione, hold a special place in my heart. Both my mother and father’s families had their own versions, as well as my in-laws, but no matter how you put the three together Stuffed Shells were always on the Christmas Day table. Baking trays packed tight with lightly golden pasta shells glistening with oily marinara and oozing ricotta, piping hot and sprinkled with fresh basil. It’s a small labor of love, a couple hours at least, but the holidays for us are as much about the preparation as they are the dining.
Grab a Negroni & some counter space and lets make this happen:
Stuffed Shells (Conchiglione Ripieni)
1 lbs Large Shell Pasta (conchiglione)
1 large can San Marzano Tomatoes
4 Garlic Cloves, smashed
1 Cup Pecorino Romano, grated
1 Handful Chopped Basil
E.V. Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper, Red Chile Flakes
To start, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
On another burner while you wait for the water to boil, place a large sauté pan on med-high heat. Add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan and add your smashed garlic. Lightly brown the garlic on all sides, then add your crushed San Marzano tomatoes, basil and season to taste. Reduce heat and allow the sauce to simmer until you’re ready to coat your pasta.
When your water comes to a boil add all of the spinach and cook until just wilted, 1 minute tops. Drain and set aside to continue draining.
Add your pasta to the same boiling water and cook until al dente, 7-8 minutes. Drain, toss with a little olive oil to keep from sticking and set aside.
When the spinach has cooled, squeeze out as much water as humanly possible and chop roughly. In a large bowl combine the ricotta, spinach, pecorino, 2 eggs, plenty of black pepper and a large pinch of chile flakes. Whip with a spoon to combine until fluffy.
In a large baking tray spread enough of the red sauce to thinly coat the bottom so the pasta doesn’t stick. Using a spoon, and pinching the flat ends of each pasta shell, fill each shell with the ricotta mix. Add just enough to fit inside the shell, not spilling out over the top.
When all of the shells have been filled and line the baking tray in one layer, spoon a little of the red sauce on top of each shell but do not completely cover them with sauce.
Sprinkle with a little extra pecorino and bake for 25-30 minutes on 450 or until the sauce becomes sticky and the top of the shells just start to turn golden brown.
Serve with an extra drizzle of good olive oil, chopped basil, and grated pecorino.
SPARK NOTES: 1. BOIL SPINACH AND PASTA 2. MAKE A QUICK MARINARA 3. MAKE THE FILLING 4. STUFF AND BAKE, THEN MANGIA!
And who could forget everyone’s favorite: Booze of the Month!
Caffe’ Corretto means simply ” Coffee Corrected.” A truer fact I could not find. In Italy, this typically means a shot of espresso served with a tazo (or tiny cup) of either Grappa, Limoncello, or more common after dinner – Sambuca. This richly-licorice flavored elixer is not subtle, so if you’re no fan of black licorice steer clear. However, after taking a few sips of your espresso and then combining the Sambuca in with the rest yields a strong, aromatic punch to the tastebuds that helps refresh the palate after a holiday gorging.
The following is more of a routine than a recipe, but it’s a free country so drink as you will:
Caffe’ Corretto alla Sambuca
1 Shot Espresso (or a double if you’re feeling faint)
1 Shot Sambuca (chilled in the freezer)
3 Espresso Beans
1 Lemon Peel
1 tsp Sugar
Pull your espresso shot and add the sugar and lemon peel. Stir until sugar’s melted.
Fill a shot glass with your chilled Sambuca and drop in the 3 espresso beans. This is a good-luck charm for the upcoming new year, but it also looks cool as the beans always meet in the middle of the shot.
Sip your espresso until it’s roughly half-empty, then add your Sambuca and stir to combine the two. Remove the lemon peel and beans, sip and repeat! The strong flavors of chocolatey espresso and fragrant licorice jolt you back from your reclined position just in time for dessert.
And so, join me in a cyber cheers to GiustoGusto’s 3rd Birthday and have a delicious holiday season. Buon Natale tutto, seeya in 2013 so long as the Mayans don’t ruin the party! (get it)