Saturday, February 25, 2012

Stuffed Shells with Feta and Herbs

Maybe it's a little strange to put feta cheese in stuffed shells, but trust me, it works. It adds a very nice tang to the mellow ricotta cheese. And the homemade sauce and herbs add a nice freshness. Plus it's great for serving to mixed company. And by mixed, I mean kids and adults (we've been having co-ed dinners at my house for years now - it's getting so it's practically normal).

Yield: 6-8 servings

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large sweet onion (such as Vidalia), finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 (28 oz.) cans crushed Italian plum tomatoes, with juices
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chopped fresh basil

2 (15 oz.) containers ricotta cheese
14 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil (plus optional basil sprigs for garnish)
2 bunches fresh chives, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs

1 (12 oz.) package jumbo pasta shells

1.      Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden. Add garlic, crushed red pepper and oregano and sauté for 1 minute. Add tomatoes. Simmer until sauce is reduced to 5 cups, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and mix in basil. (Best if prepared 1 day ahead; cover and chill.)
2.      Combine ricotta, 1 1/3 cups of the feta, basil, chives and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in eggs.
3.      Cook shells in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Rinse with cold water until cool. Drain thoroughly.
4.      Preheat oven 350° F.
5.      Spread 3/4 cup sauce over bottom of each of two 13- x 9-inch glass baking dishes. Fill all the shells and divide between dishes. Top with remaining sauce. Sprinkle with remaining feta. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before baking.)
6.      Bake shells until heated through, about 30 minutes. Garnish with basil sprigs if desired.

adapted from Bon Appétit, March 1993
adding red pepper flakes to the cooked onions
garlic and oregano mixed in too
mixing in the crushed tomatoes
basil leaves
sauce reduced; mixing in the chopped basil
sauce ready
feta cheese
all the filling ingredients
filling mixed
cooked pasta shells draining
sauce spread on the bottom of the pan

I decided at the last minute to get out the old thunderstick
(the immersion blender) and zhush the sauce. This step isn't
necessary unless you have a six-year-old who flatly rejects
anything once she makes out a piece of onion.
filling a shell
stuffed shells

I probably should have spread them out more. In the
end I didn't need two 13" x 9" dishes. My second dish was
smaller. I also wasn't sure whether I wanted them face up or down,
so I made this dish face up and the smaller one face down.
the smaller, face down dish
spooning sauce over the top
sprinkling with feta
ready to bake
I think face down probably does look nicer. But it doesn't really matter.

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