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Pesto-Cheese Stuffed Shells with Red Sauce

23-Jan-2005

Well, I thought I was done for the day but then I had this fun little dinner and felt I just had to share! :-) It was especially satisfying because it was one of those meals that just came together – it wasn’t at all planned. 

It started with me looking in the refrigerator at a package of pesto that I had defrosted yesterday.  (In the summer, when my basil starts going wild I harvest it, make batches of pesto and then freeze them.) The pesto had to be used today.  While I was staring at it, I noticed some leftover ricotta and a tub of Garlic-Parmesan Rondelé.   Hmmm – there’s a box of large pasta shells in the cupboard, too…  My plan starting coming together!

I did not measure anything, although I’m probably pretty close in my estimates, so if you decide to try this, please use your good judgment – besides half the fun is just pulling it together in a way that seems good to you!

Pesto-Cheese Stuffed Shells with Red Sauce

Simple Red Sauce

Sauté 1/2 chopped onion in a little olive oil.  When onions are tender, add 1 finely minced clove of garlic and sauté for an additional minute.  While garlic is sautéing add an assortment of herbs (see note below) to the pan.  Then add 1 – 15 oz can of tomato sauce; 1 – 15oz can of diced tomatoes, drained; and 1 to 2 Tbsp of tomato paste.  (See paste note below.)

Simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove from heat and let sit for 1 to 2 hours to let flavors meld.  Or if you don’t have time to wait just use it immediately.  It will still be fine.

Herb Note: Use whatever you have available either fresh or dried. Today, I used rosemary, silver thyme, marjoram and oregano since those are still growing in my yard.  If you are using fresh herbs from your yard at this time of year, use 2 to 3 times more than you would in the summer.  At least you’ll want to if you live in a place where it rains.  Water (rain) really dilutes the potency of fresh herbs.

Tomato Paste Note:  If you haven’t come across it yet, tomato paste can now be purchased in a tube.  It’s much more expensive this way than in the can, so if you need a lot stick with a can, but it’s perfect for those times when you just want 1 or 2 tablespoons.  After the tube has been opened you store the paste in the refrigerator and can continue to use it a tablespoon at a time. 

Pesto-Cheese Stuffed Shells

Cook 8 to 10 large pasta shells according to package instructions.  Remove from water, drain and cool. 

Mix together ¾ to 1 cup ricotta cheese, ½ cup Parmesan-Garlic Rondele, ½ cup pesto and ⅓ cup toasted pine nuts. 

Place a little red sauce in bottom of casserole.  (Select a dish that will crowd the shells just a little – it will help keep them upright while baking.)  Fill each shell with the pesto cheese mixture and place open-side up in the casserole.  When all shells have been filled, spoon more red sauce over the shells.  You want to cover them, but don’t drown them.

Place in pre-heated 350° oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until sauce is bubbling completely around the edges.  Remove from oven and let sit for 3 to 5 minutes to allow pesto-cheese mixture to set a bit. 

Place shells on plate and surround with some of the red sauce.  Coarsely grate fresh parmesan over the top and serve. 

These would make a great appetizer, too.  Allow 2 shells for an appetizer portion or 3 to 4 for an entrée portion. 

Add a little side salad, maybe a slice of crusty bread and a glass of wine and you’re set!

I watched New England kill Pittsburgh while I enjoyed mine. Since the Seahawks are out of it (and were never really in it) I can just enjoy the games for the sake of watching football.  Perfect!  

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