logoEat - Drink - Protest

A culture blog by Lauren Girardin, a San Francisco-based city girl who eats out and kicks about.

January 03, 2006

Longuyland Stuffed Shells

Yeah, you could just stuff your shells with cheese, but where's the fun in that? This one's all jazzed with high-fiber eggplant, sparkly with vitamintastic and convenient frozen spinach. Romano cheese gives it a little bit o'wow, though you could use parmesan (but do the world a favor and throw out your green canister of fakery and buy yourself a wedge of the real stuff and a microplane grater).

Makes approximately 8 servings of 4 shells.

For the shells

3 T olive oil
1 large globe eggplant
10 oz. package frozen spinach, thawed
15 oz. ricotta cheese (part skim if available)
8 oz. low moisture mozzarella cheese (that is, not fresh or water packed)
1 cup shredded Romano cheese
2 T chopped fresh parsley
1 egg
1 box jumbo pasta shells
shake of ground nutmeg (optional)
salt & pepper to taste

Simple Red Sauce (or, just grab a jar of something tasty)

1 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion
3 large cloves garlic
28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 cup decent red wine (no 2 Buck Chuck)
1/2 T dried basil
1/2 T dried oregano
generous shake of red pepper flakes
salt & pepper to taste

Ready: Set a large pot of water over high heat (Use the amount of water written on the box. Yes, that much!) with a tablespoon of salt. Gettin' to the boil will take a while. Cover it so it goes faster. While you're waiting, make the sauce.

For the sauce

Dice onion. Mince garlic. Drain liquid from the canned tomatoes into a small bowl; stick your hand in the can and squish all the tomatoes until they are in small pieces. Try to not make a mess.
Cook: On a back burner over med-high heat, add 1 T oil to a pot, wait a sec then add onion and pinch of salt and sauté until onion is soft and translucent - don't brown. Add garlic and sauté for one minute. Dump in tomatoes, reserved liquid and wine. Add basil, oregano and red pepper flakes. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Cover and leave it be.

Now for the stuffing

Prep: Chop off stem and end then peel the purple off eggplant. Dice eggplant into small 1/4" cubes (this will take a little while). Thaw spinach in the microwave then squeeze in your hands to remove as much water as possible. Chop spinach into smaller bits. Chop parsley leaves. Dice half of the mozzarella into 1/4" cubes.

...Don't forget the pasta
: Your water should be at a boil. Dump in the whole box of shells. Stir. Cover so it has a chance to come back up to boiling. Give it a minute. Uncover, stir, cover. Give it another minute. Uncover, stir, put the cover on halfway. Now, hopefully they won't stick. Maybe stir them again in 5 minutes, just in case...

On medium heat, add 3 T oil to a large sauté pan. Nonstick is worth it here. Add diced eggplant and a generous pinch of salt. It will stick a bit but as long as it doesn't burn, you're ok. Add more oil if you need, you can always blot eggplant with paper towels later. Sauté eggplant until it is softened and a little browned. Dump into large bowl.
Mix: To bowl, add spinach, parsley, entire tub of ricotta, diced portion of mozzarella, 3/4 cup of the Romano (save some for later), and shake of nutmeg. Mix gently. Taste and add salt and pepper as you like and adjust anything else that needs adjusting. Once you're satisfied, mix in egg.

...Pasta again. Check your pasta. It should be cooked enough that you can bend the shells without them cracking but not so much that they're mushy (a.k.a. al dente). Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain some more. Some will inevitably be broken and some will have stuck to the pan (bastards!). It's all good.

...Sauce again. Turn off heat. Taste it. Probably needs salt and pepper. Add 'em. For shells, I like my sauce smooth. So I blend it a little. Do you like chunky sauce? Leave it be. Since it will be baked, the sauce should be a bit thin. Add a splash of water if it's too thick.

Ready: Preheat oven to 350. Smear a little olive oil in the bottom of the biggest baking pan you own, or two smaller pans. Grab a shell. Scoop up an overflowing tablespoonful of stuffing. Stuffing, meet shell. Try to get the stuffing inside the shell. Place shell in tray, open side up. Repeat until you are out of shells or stuffing, cramming the stuffed shells into the tray in one layer. (If you have leftover stuffing, overstuff the shells. If you have extra shells, either steal some stuffing from other shells or just eat them tossed with a little melted butter.)
Set: Spoon sauce over your shells, leaving part of the shell unsauced (who doesn't love a little crunchy baked pasta?). Slice up the other half of your mozzarella and lay it over the shells. Sprinkle with the rest of the Romano.
Bake: Cover tray tightly with aluminum foil, but try to keep the foil off the shells. Pop into your preheated oven. Bake covered for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 5 until a little browned on top. Remove from oven and try to let rest for 5 minutes before eating.