Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Stuffed Shells, 2 Ways

Usually when I want a dose of pasta with red sauce and lots of cheese, we turn to lasagna. A lot of people think lasagna is difficult to make, but it really isn't. In fact, it's much easier to layer noodles, sauce, and cheese than it is to stuff the cheese into a tube pasta like manicotti or a curled pasta like jumbo shells. That's why we have never made stuffed shells or manicotti. But I've been wanting to try Stuffed Shells with Vodka Tomato Cream Sauce from Cover & Bake, so since my mom could help and since she has experience making stuffed shells, we decided to tackle this labor intensive meal.

Turns out, stuffing shells isn't too difficult nor that time consuming. Unless, of course, you decide to make two different sauces and two different trays of stuffed shells! We may have made enough to feed a small army!

SP & I made the creamy vodka sauce. It's very easy and takes less than half an hour. I love stirring the cream into the tomato base and watching as it swirls in and turns the sauce a lovely shade of pink.

My mom made her sauce, the meat sauce I grew up loving in lasagna, on spaghetti, on stuffed shells, even just simply spooned on top some bread. After all, it's important to constantly taste the simmering sauce and my brother and I were only too happy to keep an eye on the sauce as it simmered during the afternoon. The bread was an excellent delivery vehicle for taste tests.
Two sauces meant two boxes of jumbo shells. SP was in charge of cooking the shells. Mom and I were in charge of stuffing the shells with the mozzarella-ricotta-egg mixture. I'm a little embarrassed to admit just how much ricotta & mozzarella cheese we used to stuff the shells, just know it was more than the recipe calls for! We covered the pans of shells and sauce with freshly grated parmesan.
And baked them at 400 for 30-40 minutes.
Fresh basil to sprinkle on top.
So above is a stuffed shell covered in mom's sauce. Hers is a deep red sauce.
Inside the shell: cheesy goodness.
Above is the stuffed shell with vodka-tomato-cream sauce. We did not follow the complete recipe. In Cover & Bake, the cheese mixture also has peas and chopped mint. Ours just had cheese goodness inside and fresh basil on top.
Mangled stuffed shell.

I love my mom's sauce, and those shells were very tasty. I like, but don't love, the vodka-tomato-cream shells. When we baked that tray, the shells seemed to absorb most of the sauce, so they were kind of dry. I prefer my shells swimming in sauce, lots of sauce, so that I can mop the sauce with a piece of bread. The sauce is flavorful, I can taste all the ingredients, but at the same time, that was a problem for me. When we taste tested the sauce from the pan, the vodka flavor was way too strong for me. After the shells and sauce baked, the vodka was less pronounced, which was a good thing, but that wee bit of crushed red pepper really gave the shells a kick (keeping in mind that I am not a fan of spice/heat). I thought the final product really needed the fresh basil to give it that extra oomph, otherwise, they were a bit bland.

I find it hard to believe that I am calling pasta stuffed with lots of cheese bland and not entirely satisfying, but, I am. I think if we made these again, I'd definitely include the peas and/or mint and maybe make some extra sauce in hopes of saucier shells.

My mom's sauce:
1 (28 oz) can tomato puree
1 small can tomato paste
1/2-1 green pepper, diced
1/2 large onion, chopped
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
1 lb ground beef
dried parsley, oregano, basil
salt & pepper
2 T brown sugar
2-3 T Worcestershire

Saute pepper, celery, and onion in a bit of butter and/or olive oil. Brown ground meat in separate pan. Drain fat and add to sauteed vegetables. Add puree, paste, brown sugar, Worcestershire, and herbs. Stir and simmer for a few hours, stirring occasionally. My mom likes to cool the sauce, refrigerate it overnight, then warm it the next day before making lasagna or stuffed shells.

Cover & Bake Stuffed Shells with Vodka-Tomato-Cream Sauce recipe can be found here:

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