Thursday, March 5, 2015

Simply Stunning Stuffed Shells

I think this is it, people. I think this is the end of the (really) cold weather. The ten-day forecast is hopeful, with highs mostly in the 40s, and one day with a predicted high of 50!! After a historically cold and snowy February, this forecast fills me with an embarrassing amount of joy.


Sometimes the idea of blogging about my faith, especially my Lenten practices feels strange to me - it feels against the spirit of Matthew 6:17 fasting, like if I bring this part of my life into a public arena, it will have less impact, make less of a difference in my life. But then as I read others' blogs, I remember why this kind of sharing is important. Bonnie wrote about her struggles through Lent, her struggle to challenge herself while also remaining realistic in the face of the everyday sacrifice of motherhood, and I felt encouraged, emboldened, and refreshed. I felt like I had a companion on the journey. Then Jenny shared a post challenging us to take a closer look at the media we consume, to really test whether it is strengthening or weakening our character, our conscience. I admire these women who are sharing their hearts, because they encourage me in my life, help me to be better, challenge me to look closer and dig deeper. I am grateful.


I guess the key is, as in all things, purity of motive. Why do I feel compelled to share? Do I want applause and accolades? To gain the admiration (and maybe even envy) of my peers? Or am I looking to pay it forward, in the hopes that something I share will encourage someone, help them to live their faith in the way so many bloggers have inspired me to live mine? The key is humility, which is so very hard to nail down, so difficult to live in reality.


I originally shared this recipe in 2011, and I've only made it a handful of times between then and now. I can't for the life of me figure out why, since it's so simple to make, and results in such a lovely, sparklingly special finished dish. Perfect for a Lenten Friday evening, or any other time when you'd rather avoid meat.


Simply Stunning Stuffed Shells
adapted from 101cookbooks

1 box jumbo dried pasta shells (you will end up with a few extra shells)
zest of 1 lemon

For the sauce:
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

For the filling:
1 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated mozzarella
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 bunch chives, minced

Put a large pot of water on to boil.  Preheat oven to 350.  Coat bottom and sides of a 9x13-inch baking dish with olive oil, and sprinkle half of lemon zest over it.

For the sauce, combine olive oil, salt, pepper flakes and garlic in a saucepan, stirring over medium heat just until fragrant, being careful not to burn.  Add tomatoes and stir until hot.  Remove from heat, stir in basil, and taste for seasonings.

For the filling, combine ricotta, egg and salt in a bowl and mix well.  Stir in mozzarella, parmesan, remaining half of lemon zest, and 3/4 of chives.  Set aside.

Cook shells in boiling, salted water until just barely done - if you overcook them, they'll fall apart when you try to stuff them.  Drain and cool slightly.

Spread 1/3 of sauce over the bottom of the pan.  Fill each shell with ricotta filling, and nestle them closely together on top of the sauce.  Spoon remaining sauce over, and then sprinkle with chives and a little bit of extra mozzarella and parmesan.  Cover with foil and bake 15 minutes, uncover and bake another 15 minutes, until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling.  Serve with garlic bread. Or garlic knots!

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