It's funny, the way making something new can feel like an effort not worth taking at first. Gathering materials not already in your pantry with limited real estate and budget, spending a bit more time reading directions, making sure it was a teaspoon and not a tablespoon you needed, double checking this and that. But then, after you've enjoyed it, a small mental space feels opened. You expanded. Sometimes, by force we expand, even if we wiggle through discomfort at first.
I've typically written off baked pasta at home because of the enormous quantity of cheese involved, the cheese hiding in the pasta and the cheese blanketing the top. It's just too much. But recently, Heidi Swanson posted a stuffed shells recipe from her archives to Facebook (she's been doing this lately and I like it--there is a lot already in her body of work!). Yet we're always searching for 'the latest. Sometimes we just need to go back. Something about her recipe piqued my interest. She did not blanket the shells with mozzarella, and suddenly I realized you didn't have to.
In fact I nixed the mozzarella all together, even though she put a little in the filling. I replaced it with a little grated romano instead, and then finished it with a little more. Chives and garlic round out the filling, too, and the whole thing is kissed with lemon zest. Suddenly something with a red-sauce Italian joint overly-rich reputation, is able to be its essence: rustic-classic. Also, husbands love it ; )
1-2 cups your favorite tomato sauce
20-ish jumbo dried shells
zest of a lemon
Half-bunch chives, minced
1 clove garlic
1 sprig thyme
1 medium/small egg, lightly beaten (or 3/4 of a large one)
10-12 oz whole milk ricotta
~1/3 cup fresh grated romano or asagio cheese, divided
Lightly oil a 9 inch pie plate or equiv. Zest half the lemon over it, set aside.
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente-- 10-11 minutes.
Drain and toss with a little olive oil. Let cool to handle.
Meanwhile, combine: egg, ricotta, thyme leaves, 2/3 each of the grated cheese and chives and zest the other half of the lemon. Mix well.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Spread 1/3 of the tomato sauce over the bottom of the baking dish. Take a spoonful of filling and fill all the shells, tucking them in. Top with a bit more sauce and back 30 mins covered with foil. Remove foil for last 10-15 minutes. Let cool slightly, top with remaining grated cheese and chives.