Pasta is a firm favourite in our house and we eat it several times a week. It’s usually a case of boiling some simple shapes – cavatappi for preference – tossed in a simple sauce. Marcella Hazan’s simple tomato sauce features regularly, as does a dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, basil and toasted almonds or a smothering of melted Boursin cheese. But from time to time I’ll stray from a fast and furious meal to something requiring a little more care and attention such as lasagna, cannelloni or these fab stuffed shells.
Stuffed shells are a real treat that aren’t too fussy to put together; yes, it’s not a 10-minute supper but the result is worth a little effort. The giant shells (conchiglie giganti) are filled with a mixture of ricotta and mozzarella studded with nubs of toasted almond and peppery rocket. Once baked, each shell transforms into a pocket of melty cheese smothered in a fresh, sweet roasted pepper sauce: utterly luxurious but curiously light and definitely moreish! Perfect for dinner with friends especially since they take so well to being made in advance. Assemble these the night before then pop them in fridge until you’re ready for supper, throw together a salad, slice some fresh bread and open some wine and Ecco! La cena è pronta!
Ricotta, almond and rocket stuffed shells with roasted pepper sauce
For the sauce:
- olive oil
- 4 red, yellow or orange peppers
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes
- salt and pepper
For the shells:
- 40 large pasta shells
- 400g ricotta
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 100g mozzarella, cut into small dice
- salt and pepper to taste
- 50g fresh rocket, chopped
- 50g toasted almonds, finely chopped
First prepare your sauce.
Heat the oven to 200°C. Rub the peppers with a little oil and roast for 30–40 minutes until soft and lightly charred.
In a medium pan heat a little olive oil and gently cook the onion and garlic until translucent. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes.
Once the peppers are done, peel them, remove the seeds and add to the tomato sauce. Very carefully (it’s hot!) blend the sauce with a stick blender until smooth. Taste and season.
Next make the filling.
In a large bowl beat the ricotta until soft then stir in the egg. Add the mozzarella, rocket, almonds and seasoning.
Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and cook the shells for about 8 minutes (or 2-3 minutes less than he recommended cooking time). They should be soft enough to fill but not fully cooked or they will tear. Plunge into cold water then drain.
Reduce the oven to 180°C.
Spread about a third of the pepper sauce onto the base of a 35 x 25cm oven-proof dish.
Take one shell at a time, gently squeeze to open wide enough and fill with a spoonful of the ricotta mix. Place in the baking dish and repeat.
Pour the remaining sauce evenly over the shells, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and return to the oven for a further 15 minutes.
Leave to stand for 10 minutes before serving.