My resident hunka-hunka burning love secretly bought me a subscription to Food and Wine magazine. (Yes, I know…I’m Mormon and don’t drink alcohol, BUT I do eat.) The first issue arrived on Saturday and there was this insane photo on the cover for stuffed shell pasta. Both Hunka-Hunka and I gasped and I hurriedly turned to page 140. There it was…pasta insanity in a 9 x 13 with cheese and tomato sauce and five easy steps (that’s magazine steps, not true-life cooking steps). I promised that man of mine that I would be making said pasta insanity on Monday night for dinner.
I kept my word. I am now dripping in diamonds and will be picking up my new Mercedes tomorrow morning. It’s just some of the percs for being married to a man who adores food me and appreciates a good meal in his easy chair the finer things in life.
Dripping in diamonds? A Mercedes? Get real. Try dripping in sweat and a 1995 minivan. hahahahahahaha… that’s really funny! True, too.
I’ll tell you something else that is really funny. John went nuts for the creamy marinara sauce. “Wow! This is a really good sauce,” he said as he stared greedily at the sauce remnants on my plate. “Did you dip your bread in it?”. He sounded concerned that maybe I wasn’t appreciating the sauce’s full potential. What he wasn’t understanding was that there was a slurping and licking spoon on the counter next to the pan in which I had cooked the sauce. I had made good use of that spoon during dinner prep.
Later in the evening when we were cleaning up the kitchen, John mentioned the sauce again, remarked on the amazing recipe in the magazine, and proceeded to pour some of the sauce into a container so that he could take it to work the next day for lunch. He was making all kinds of quiet, excited yummy noises planning his lunch; four stuffed shells, extra sauce, and some pieces of crusty french bread for dipping in said sauce.
One more sauce comment and I couldn’t help myself. “John,” I finally said, “that’s just my regular sauce except with some cream in it.”
He gawked, looking from me to the pan. “You didn’t use the sauce in the recipe? I thought they gave a recipe for it.”
With an air of complete snobbery and a dismissive flick of my hand, I said “I like mine better.” Oh my goodness, John grabbed me and kissed me forever and we danced around the kitchen like two young lovers while John sang beautiful love songs to me.
What really happened was that John said something like “Oh!” and smiled really big, which is the same thing as kissing me forever and dancing around the kitchen like two young lovers and singing beautiful love songs. The exact. same. thing. because that’s how things are around here. That’s the way things are between kindred spirits in the kitchen who have been married for going on 32 years…when there’s dishes to be done…and it’s late…and there’s nothing else to watch on TV.
Okay. Enough of that malarkey. Here’s the info on the recipe. Despite the fact that this was a simple recipe, I was a little nervous to make it. It came out of a fancy magazine, after all. The pasta shells are stuffed with an unusual mixture of fennel, sweet onion, radicchio, ricotta, and Italian Fontina.
FYI: I didn’t know this, but there is Italian Fontina and Danish Fontina. When I asked the cheese monger at a local “has everything” grocery store for Fontina, she asked if I wanted Italian or Danish. Without missing a beat, even though I was ignorant of the existence of more than one type of Fontina, I confidently stated that I wanted the Italian Fontina. No way was I going to appear clueless in front of the cheese monger. Plus, I was making a pasta dish with Italian types of ingredients, so it wasn’t difficult to put two and two together. Further FYI: Italian Fontina has a hard rind on it due to the aging process. (Sounds anatomically correct. ;)). Danish Fontina, on the other hand, has a red wax rind and is softer and milder in flavor.
The recipe in Food and Wine allows for use of a bottled marinara, but a recipe for a good basic marinara is also included. I am partial to my own marinara, so I really and truly did make my own sauce. Because of the nature of the other ingredients in this dish, I chose to use a can of good quality whole San Marzano tomatoes and also a good quality tomato sauce and tomato paste. As much as I wish that things were otherwise, there is a definite taste difference between the pricier Italian types of tomato products and the 0.79 specials that I so often use for my general cooking needs.
In short, this is a recipe for dinner guests; not for the family dinner table. Please don’t be offended by that statement. This is a pricey little dish and the flavors are more adult in nature. Granted, there are some children with more refined palates, but in general a good plate of spaghetti will suffice for your offspring.Print
Ricotta-and-Fontina-Stuffed Shells with Fennel and Radicchio
Recipe Source: Adapted from Food and Wine
For the Marinara–(Recipe by Terri) The recipe as given in Food and Wine magazine states that a jar of your favorite marinara can be used in place of the homemade marinara.Additionally, this homemade marinara will make extra marinara for serving at the table for those guests who would like more of it with their meal. Trust me, they will.
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 can (28 ounces) whole San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 can (12 ounces) good quality tomato sauce
- 1 can (6 ounces) good quality tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon white sugar
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
For the Filling–(Recipe by Food and Wine magazine)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 pounds fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
- 1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
- 1-2 medium heads of radicchio (10 ounces total), chopped
- 12 ounces jumbo pasta shells
- 2 cups fresh ricotta cheese
- 6 ounces (weight) Italian Fontina cheese, shredded
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- *Preheat the oven to 375-degrees F.
For the Marinara
- In a large, deep skillet heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, then lower the heat to medium low. Cook, stirring as needed, until onions are translucent and golden. If ingredients begin to stick, add a little water, stir, and continue to cook until onions are translucent.
- Add the whole tomatoes, with juice. Break up tomatoes well with a wooden spoon or other tomato breaker-upper of your choice. 🙂
- Stir in the tomato sauce, tomato paste,basil, oregano, and sugar. If sauce appears too thick, add about 3/4 cup water. I simply put some water in the tomato can to rinse down the sides and added that to the pan. The sauce will reduce during cooking, but don’t let it get too thick.
- Add salt and pepper, to taste. Cover and cook over medium low or low heat for about 20-30 minutes, stirring as needed. Taste periodically to check for seasonings.
- Turn off the heat and stir in the cream. Cover and keep warm until ready to use.
For the Filling
- In a large, deep skillet, melt the butter in the oil. Add the fennel and onion. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Add water as needed to keep the vegetables from scorching.
- Add the radicchio and cook until very soft, about 10 minutes. Again, add water as needed.
- If cooking liquid is present when the vegetables are done, drain cooking liquid from vegetables. Put vegetable in a large mixing bowl and set aside to cool.
- Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente. Do not over-cook.
- Drain. Cool under running water, then gently pat shells dry. I did not need to pat the shells dry. I simply turned each one in a colander so that the water would drain out by itself. It’s what worked for me.
- Fold the ricotta, 1 cup of the Fontina, and the parsley into the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper.
- Stir in the eggs AFTER the filling has been seasoned to taste.
- Pour 1 1/2 cups of the marinara sauce into a 9- x 13-inchbaking dish. Stuff each shell with a slightly rounded tablespoon of the filling. Nestle the shells as close together as possible on top of the sauce in the baking dish.
- Drizzle 1 cup of the remaining sauce on top. Because I had extra sauce, so I used more than one cup–which is probably why my photos don’t look quite as nice as the ones from the magazine. I’m pretty sure that’s the reason. Certainly photography skills, perfect lighting, and a great camera had absolutely nothing to do with why Food and Wine’s pics were so amazing.
- Sprinkle the remaining Fontina over the sauce and pasta.
- Bake for about 40 minutes, until golden. Let rest for 15 minutes.
- Serve the remaining sauce, warm, on the side.
This recipe is only as good as the quality of ingredients used. Be a wise cook.