The word for shell in Italian is conchglioni, and it’s no wonder that stuffed shells are an American favorite. Each shell is like a present; a little package filled with creamy, savory/salty cheese immersed the tangy backdrop of fresh garden tomatoes and herbs.
I often write about my childhood neighbor, Mrs. Narducci. She and my mother gardened together, shared heirloom seeds, rejoiced together during celebrations and consoled each other during times of loss and turmoil. She was the epitomy of the American dream who came to this country with the willingness to sacrifice and work hard to give her children a life better than what was available to her in post-war Italy. She was so proud of her American life: her house in the suburbs, her children’s tennis club, her garden and her sauce. I often think of her when I am in my garden picking ripe tomatoes or in my kitchen canning them or trying to replicate her sauce.
This is Lucy’s recipe for stuffed shells with ricotta and spinach, covered with garden tomato sauce, the best olive oil and basil. This is for you neighbor — “vicina di casa”. Oggi manigiamo conchiglioni ricotta ripieni. Mangiare bene!
Ingredients for the shells and filling
Boil 1 bag of large shells al dente (if you can find the ones with vegetable colors, they are the prettiest)
1 lb of ricotta
3 shallots, peeled and minced
2 cups of raw chopped spinach
4 large eggs
In large mixing bowl, add eggs to ricotta, then fold in spinach. Add salt, pepper and pinch of nutmeg. Set aside for stuffing.
For the sauce
6 large tomatoes, blanched, peeled and cooled
Fresh herbs — de-stemmed and chopped
small bunch of basil
small bunch of oregano
small bunch of thyme
Chop tomatoes, set aside with juices
Chop the shallots and saute
Mince garlic and add to shallots for less than a minute and add to the shallots and garlic
Add chopped tomatoes to the pan
Add fresh-chopped fresh herbs
Add salt to taste and red pepper flakes
Adjust for salt and allow to reduce
Assembling the casserole
Brush baking pan with EVOO
Stuff each shell with cheese and spinach mixture and place in pan (line them up so they are touching and don’t fall over)
Pour sauce over the top and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Sliced, fresh mozzarella over the top and bake until bubbling and golden brown
Allow to rest for at least for 15 minutes before serving
Garnish with additional herbs and serve with a green salad or a bowl of steaming broccoli or sauteed broccoli rabe.
Enjoy this with your favorite glass of light-bodied red wine.
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