Friday, January 28, 2011

Baked Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells In Tomato Sauce

Pasta shells are a nice thing to eat. You can fill them up with almost anything you like, that will fit and stay in them of course, and they rarely fail to please. The stuffing has lots of flavor and goes nicely with the shells, something like canneloni or manicotti, but a lot easier to prepare.

Over the years, I have tried many different ways to make these. I have tried stuffing them with bolognese sauce with a tomato sauce over top and one time with a bechemel sauce. Interesting but haven't done either since. I have even tried stuffing them with spaghetti squash. The winner seems to be a ricotta mixture or just ricotta alone, I find.

Ricotta cheese is a great ingredient to have in your kitchen. It has a nice, mild flavor and takes on other flavors without any issues. Ricotta actually means "recooked" in Italian and is a fresh cheese rather than aged or ripened. This means there is less screwing around with it. It has a lot of calcium, protein and omega fatty acids. Just be careful as the omega-6's outweigh the omega-3's. It is always important to have more omega-3's* than 6's, I've been told. But don't get me wrong, both are good, just make sure you balance them out properly.

* If you haven't noticed, I finally decided to stop adding the actual links to the sites and just attach the links to the actual words, Looks a lot better this way. :)

Ingredients

- 1 container (500 g) ricotta cheese, low-fat can be used if you wish
- 1/4 cup Parmesan, grated 
- zest of half of a lemon
- juice of 1/2 of the lemon after zesting
- leaves from 1 sprig of thyme, chopped
- 4 basil leaves, sliced into ribbons
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 clove garlic
- sea salt to taste and fresh ground pepper to taste
- 12 jumbo pasta shells, cooked, drained and cooled
- 2 or 3 cups of your favorite tomato sauce
- 3 tbsp chopped parsley

Directions

1. Heat oven to 400°F. Mix ricotta cheese, Parmesan, garlic, oregano, basil, thyme, lemon zest and juice and salt/pepper until well blended. Reserve a little Parmesan to sprinkle over top before serving.
2. Spoon mixture into shells or use a piping bag, filling each shell to just under the top of it. Handle the shells carefully as you don't want to break them.


3. Spread half the sauce onto bottom of a baking dish. Arrange shells, filled-sides up in the baking dish and top with sauce. Make sure to cover as much of the shells as you can so they don't burn. You could also cover the dish with aluminum foil.


4. Bake 40 minutes or until heated through, removing foil after 30 minutes, if you used it.
5. Sprinkle parsley and Parmesan over top and serve.
Yield: Serves 3


Tips: Ok, I made this on the cheap side of the calories, so if you want to add a little more flavor, fat or whatever, sprinkle some shredded mozzarella over top before baking along with a little more Parmesan. This makes it nice and gooey and adds more flavor, especially when it browns a little. If you do this, cover the dish with foil for the first 30 minutes or so and bake it uncovered for the last 10. You could also save some of the sauce in a pot to pour over top of the shells just before you serve them.

The stuffing can be used for cannelloni or manicotti as well. If you are having issues with it falling out of the pasta, just add an egg to use as a binder. You could also add some chopped frozen spinach to the stuffing. You can never go wrong with spinach. It blows the roof off of our daily intake of vitamin K and A, and has a healthy dose of manganese and folate as well. I eat it all of the time and always look for different ways to cook with it. This is a good meal for Meatless Monday, if you are into that type of thing.

Little O's Menu

She finally is getting tired of eating sweet potatoes. This means we have to make sure we pump her up full of other vegetables which are bright in color. We are starting to get her to try more tomato-based foods, like sauces. Also, we are trying to get her to eat a little more meat as she isn't a big fan. There has to be more protein in her diet so anything will help. For breakfast today, it was a whole organic banana and 8 or 10 organic raspberries. Both are full of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C.

She is still on the oatmeal kick too. This is fine, as I've said before. It's quick and easy to make and is full of fibre. Throwing in a few raspberries and/or blueberries never hurts either. A little maple syrup and cinnamon always adds a nice flavor punch and added health benefits.

Restaurant Review

Last weekend, Mrs. Urban Eater said we should go out for dinner and see how the new little babysitter handles O. We chose to go to a place in the south end of town called Halo. It's a steak and seafood house along with a wine bar. I have seen a few other articles and reviews about it and so far, so good.

To begin, we ordered a bottle of 2009 Masi Valpolicella. It was a good bottle of wine, but we should really have a better idea of what we want to eat before we order the wine. It paired well with what we ate, so we were lucky. We started off with the Saganaki and her choice, the Calamari. Both were very tasty, even though I rarely eat deep fried calamari now that I am a believer in steamed and grilled. Our mains were the Seafood Casarolla with lemon potatoes on the side for her,


and the 14 oz Rib Eye with garlic mashed potatoes on the side for me.


I don't eat steak very often, but i figured what the hell, I'm in a steakhouse! I ordered the big one as I don't eat the fat or the gristle. I know, picky, but I eat enough fat and only like to eat what I can chew. So really, I ate about an 10 oz steak, which is fine as I'm used to that. The next time, I will have the Filet Mignon or the New York. Also, the next time we go out I will bring our small camera. I don't like the quality of the pics my Blackeberry takes. You will see much better quality pics from now on.

We were impressed by the service, too bad I can't remember her name. The only flaws we noticed were she was a little slow at first and at the end of the meal when we were waiting for the cheque. In her defense, we noticed she had another girl hanging around her quite a bit, so we figured she was training her. Otherwise, our server knew the menu by heart and offered some great advice on many different aspects and answered all questions. We will go back again very soon! Oh yeah, the new babysitter worked out very well. Thanks Perry!

Quote Of The Day:

"People think Chef Boyardee is a great man. I think he's nothing but a pasta hater. What true lover of pasta could turn it into mush and shove it in a can? That's not pasta. That's just plain wrong.”
~ Author Unknown

Good point. Making ones own pasta is a lot of fun and shouldn't be compromised.


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark

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