Saturday, May 28, 2011
Scrumptious Stuffed Shells
Dinner: May 27
I had been wanting to make stuffed pasta shells for some time, but I didn’t stumble upon the recipe until I had leftover ricotta cheese and searched my favorite chefs’ and food networks’ websites. And whaddayaknow, Giada De Laurentiis had the recipe I needed - shells with crispy pancetta and spinach.
The problems with the recipe were with some of the ingredients. First of all, my local food markets don’t carry pancetta (the "butcher" didn't even know what it was, which was a bit scary), and I didn’t have time to go to the Italian market for one item. Therefore, I substituted salt pork for the pancetta. Don’t ask me why I didn’t use regular bacon because my instincts went to salt pork, and I went with it. Don’t judge. (Just kidding; judge if you must.)
Second, I didn’t have access to asiago cheese at my regular grocery store, so I substituted pecorino that was already in my fridge. I also didn’t have fresh nutmeg so I used ground nutmeg from my spice rack, and I used dried parsley instead of fresh. Finally, I discovered awhile back that I don’t like using frozen spinach, so I bought fresh spinach and cooked it. I don’t like making so many subs in a recipe, but it needs to be convenient for me and I try to be price-conscious. Work with what you have and what you prefer, right?
Oh, and I cut the recipe precisely in half because I didn’t need to feed the entire neighborhood.
With that said, I proceeded to make my pasta dinner.
Basics: Cooked pasta in salted boiling water until al dente and drained. Cooked cubed salt pork in heated skillet with olive oil until brown, and transferred drained pancetta to a bowl. Added spinach, ricotta cheese, grated pecorino cheese, ground black pepper, and nutmeg. Stirred and stuffed each shell, and put them in buttered baking dish. Melted butter in saucepan, added garlic and cream, and brought to simmer. Put heat on low and added grated pecorino, dried parsley, and ground black pepper. Stirred until cheese mostly dissolved and poured over shells. Cooked dish in 375-degree oven for 25 minutes.
This was even more luscious than I anticipated! It was creamy and flavorful with every bite. The salt pork was a fine substitution, though it seems that a thick bacon would have worked just as well. The pecorino cheese didn’t melt well in the cream prior to pouring on the pasta, but most of it melted in the oven stage. It seems that the asiago would have been a better choice, and I will make a concerted effort to find it next time, or try a softer cheese substitution like fontina. But all in all, it was a wonderful dish, and it was easier than I suspected to prepare. This is something that I will happily make for a group dinner with friends as well. Yum!