Lidia's Stuffed Shells

A month or so ago I ran across a video by Lidia Bastianich in which she made stuffed shells with her Nonna.  They are adorable together!  Even if you don't plan on making this dish, watch the video.  The recipe looked simple and it left me craving stuffed shells. I haven't made them in years.

I printed the recipe and headed to the grocery store for the ingredients. After I'd purchased the ingredients I thought I'd watch the video one more time. Well, Lidia uses different ingredients in the video than she does in the recipe (and the recipe is linked in the video so I know I printed the right one!).  So I ended up with a mixture of both recipes in the dish I made.

Baked Stuffed Shells - Lidia (the recipe)
Baked Stuffed Shells - Lidia (the video)

The filling in the recipe calls for whole milk ricotta, fresh mozzarella, grated Grana Padano, chopped fresh parsley and an egg. I was lucky enough to find Calabro ricotta in my local grocery store. It is the best ricotta! It is smooth and creamy and I could just eat it with a spoon and maybe a little honey. The store did not have Grana Padano. I didn't want to make a run to Cosetta so I went with a good Parmesan Reggiano instead. The directions say to slice half the mozzarella thin and cube the rest. Cubing fresh mozzarella seemed like it would be a trick. Turns out I didn't have to. Read on.

Then I watched the video. In the video, Lidia uses cubed provolone cheese and peas in the filling mix. I didn't have any provolone in the house but I did have some Eichten's mozzarella which has a texture similar to provolone so I used that along with the fresh mozzarella. We did run out for peas because we thought that sounded good! I think spinach or even basil would be equally good or maybe even a little crab?

All but the sliced fresh mozzarella is mixed together for the filling. In her video, Lidia suggests you put this in the refrigerator to make stuffing the shells easier so that's what I did.

The sauce is equally easy to put together.  A little olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, tomatoes and fresh basil, if you follow the recipe.  If you follow the video, a little dried oregano is added to the sauce and there is no mention of the basil! I added both!

This simple sauce smells so good as it simmers! I was a little surprised at how good the kitchen smelled.  Definitely a dish I could make for guests because it comes together so quickly and the kitchen will smell divine!

The shells are cooked even less than al dente, just enough so the shells can be stuffed.  They will finish baking in the sauce. Lidia suggests rinsing the pasta with water then putting them in some cold water to cool them. I've never done that before, so I tried it. The shells didn't stick to each other as much as they have in the past (even after a rinse, as I get to the end of the stuffing some shells would stick together) so maybe it helped with that.

The stuffed shells are placed in a baking dish to which a little of the sauce has been added. The full batch calls for a 15x10 baking dish. I don't own a 15x10 baking dish, shocking I know. But I had made a half batch (since there's just the two of us) so my pretty little red stoneware worked perfectly.

I had enough filling to make a double layer of shells. I didn't want to waste any! 

In the video, Lidia uses grated mozzarella cheese, not fresh as called for in the recipe, and she mixes it with a little of the Grana Padano (or Parmesan in my case). Nonna explains that mixing the cheese keeps the shredded cheese from sticking together.  I topped my pasta with the fresh mozzarella and a little of the grated Parmesan.

About a half hour later this beautiful dish came out of the oven!

These were delicious. The cheese was creamy, the peas added a fresh flavor that cut the richness of the cheese. And that simple sauce was so good I mopped up every last bit on my plate with a piece of good bread. We'll definitely be having this again. I could easily whip this up after work. This sauce would be fantastic on anything!

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