Stuffed Shells

Well, life hasn’t slowed down and my kitchen creativity is still just out of reach. I am pretty sure I am not the only one who gets into the rut and can’t seem to see the high ground where the good food lives. Despite all of that I managed to eek out a few tasty things and we will start talking about the most successful of these cobbled together meals.

For this dish all I had was an idea, I didn’t read a book or look up a recipe on the magic Google, yes, I totally winged it and yes, I got totally lucky!

I used shells because that is what I had on hand. About once a month my grocery puts the dry pasta on a crazy sale and I stock up on everything.

So, ingredients. I chose Ricotta, cottage cheese, sour cream and a goat cheese crumbled and flavored with sun-dried tomatoes and basil. For additional flavor I sprinkled in some granulated garlic, shallot powder, black pepper, MSG and a pinch of salt. I didn’t really measure how much but I tried to use about the same amount of all the cheeses except the goat cheese which I liked so much I wanted it to be the forward flavor so I used the entire container that was 6 ounces. Are ya’ll ready for the technical part of this dish? It’s crazy complicated so hold on to your hats! Plop those cheeses and spices into a bowl and stir gently as to not break up the crumbles too terribly much. See, I told you it was very complex.

The shells I had were the kind you have to cook before you cook, I have heard rumors of precooked pasta that you can just gussy up and stick in the oven but I have only been able to find lasagna noodles in this mystical design. So I added salt and oil to the water so they would get a little flavor and not stick into each other like spoons and since they are getting stuffed and baked I followed the package directions for a firm cook.

In the spirit of winging it I went with what I know about baking pasta which is admittedly only making lasagna but watching a lot of cooking shows, I opened a can of pasta sauce and spooned some into the bottom of the baking dish. Ok, so I spooned about half the can into each dish, I like a saucier type of pasta dish but you can just use enough to cover the bottom of the dish so the noodles don’t stick.

I could have done something fancy like put my cheese mix into a Zip-lock bag and snip a corner and turn it into a piping bag but I wasn’t trying to work that hard so I spooned the cheese into the shells and then put them in the baking dishes. Still in the winging it mode I set the oven at 350 and turned the light on so I could watch what was going on.

Since the pasta was par cooked I didn’t think they would need to bake for very long and shells aren’t something that should have a crispy edges so I was literally sitting on the floor in front of the oven watching the action. After about 5 of the most exciting minutes I have spent in ages I decided that we needed a salad and bread to go with our dish. My mother did instill the need for a balanced meal. My idea of balanced is sometimes not exactly conforming to the food pyramid but I do try because veggies are our friends. Yes bread and pasta is a little carb heavy but sometimes a few extra carbs are OK.

So let’s talk about salad. This salad was almost more toppings than lettuce but sometimes the toppings are better than the lettuce! I picked up a bag of butter lettuce mix, a garden salad mix and a package of head of romaine so that we could have salads on demand. I got an English cucumber, bacon bits, mushrooms and bleu cheese. Here is more technical for you, chop the mushrooms and cucumbers into bite sized bits and and artfully sprinkle them atop the lettuce before adding the bacon bits and bleu cheese. We like the Olive Garden salad dressing and since we had pasta it was almost mandatory that we use it.

Back to the pasta! Since I had used a bunch of sauce I was thinking that once it got all bubbly and simmerish, yes I just made up that word, that it would help to cook the pasta but I was also thinking that since I hadn’t pre cooked the sauce that it would take longer for it to get hot enough to work as a cooking liquid and then the edges would get dry and crispy. Yes I was a nervous Nelly about this. Yes everything ended up OK.

For the finishing touches I buttered 4 slices of bread, sprinkled them with garlic and onion powder and a little black pepper and stuck them under the broiler while I dished the pasta and dressed the salads. If I was in possession of a green thumb I would have pretty little pots with fresh herbs growing and would be able to top my dishes with either parsley or basil, alas the only thing I am able to keep alive is this crazy mandevilla plant that I found on sale last season and it is not an edible plant. I guess I could throw in that I have been making ghee so that is what I buttered the bread with. That sort of makes it fancy, in my mind anyway!

The plating is super simple, we are finished with the technical, I am super hungry and ready to eat so nothing fancy here but you can make yours fancy with parsley or basil that your green thumb allows you to grow or if you thought far enough ahead and just bought some. Anyway, I used one of the shallow type of soup bowls to serve the pasta and a deeper type of soup bowl to serve the salads and I stuck the bread on the side of the pasta bowls.

There is plenty of room here to gussy this dish up, whatever type of cheese you like or want to try can be used, any type of sauce you want to make would also be lovely, if your family is more of a meat needing group of people any sort of ground meat could be added to the cheese mix or you don’t have to use a cheese mix at all. What this taught me is that if you can think it then it can be! Yes, all of this came to me in those 5 interminable minutes I spent watching the pasta.

Thanks ya’ll!! Happy cooking!

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