A magazine cover photo sparked my interest in creating this following recipe. That and my love of fennel, which was used to stuff the pasta shells. I decided to make it my own!
This recipe is easy, but takes time. So only make these veggie-stuffed shells when you have time to spend in the kitchen! Consider it a wonderful way to spend a rainy or snowy day. Every step is easy, but this is a multi-step recipe as you need to :
- Cook the vegetables
- Combine them with the cheeses and eggs
- Cook and drain the pasta
- Fill pasta with veggie mixture
- Put together. Combine… collate… whatever you want to call it …and then bake!
Those are the steps! Make this when you want everything done ahead of time.
My friends and I enjoyed this with a reserve 2004 Chilean Merlot from the Maipo Valley that I pulled from my wine cellar. (My “cellar” is just a Haier wine cooler, not an actual cellar!)
Shells Stuffed with Fennel and Escarole
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (garlic flavored if available)
1 large fennel bulb (about 2 pounds), cored and thinly sliced
1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 small head escarole, washed well and chopped (about 1 1 /2 pounds)*
12 ounces jumbo shells
2 cups low-fat ricotta cheese
6 ounces Fontinella cheese, shredded (1 1/2 cups)**
2 large eggs, beaten
1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/4 teaspoon or more hot pepper flakes
Freshly ground pepper
32-ounce jar marinara or other favorite pasta sauce
1/4 cup jarred Alfredo sauce
Heat a 2- or 3-quart pot of salted water. If you’re planning to bake this right away, also preheat the oven to 375°.
Heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet. Add the fennel and onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. If the fennel begins to stick, add a couple tablespoons water to the skillet. Add the escarole and cook until very soft, about 10 minutes, adding a tablespoon or two of water again if needed. Scrape the vegetables into a bowl and let cool.
Cook the shells in the boiling water until al dente*** Drain and rinse with cool under running water. Pat the shells dry.
For the filling, fold the ricotta, 1 cup of the shredded cheese, the eggs and parsley into the vegetables; season with salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes to taste.****
In another bowl, mix the marinara and Alfredo sauces. Pour some of the sauce (about 1 1/2 cups) into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish so the dish bottom of the dish is lightly covered with sauce. Stuff each shell with a rounded tablespoon of the filling and nestle the shells in the sauce as close together as possible. Drizzle 1 cup of the remaining sauce on top, reserving the rest to heat and serve with the finished dish. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of shredded cheese. If you’re not baking immediately, cover and refrigerate.
Bake the shells in a pre-heated 375-oven for about 40 minutes, until golden. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Warm the remaining sauce and serve on the side.
makes 6 servings
* To easily “chop” the escarole, try using kitchen scissors to just snip the escarole after you’ve rinsed it.
** You can substitute almost any cheese that melts nicely — provolone, gruyere, Monterrey Jack — resulting in a sharper or milder flavor, depending on what you select.
*** al dente means that the pasta is still a bit firm when you bite into it
**** To taste means to add how much you think you’d like to add, depending how salty, pepper or spicy you want the dish,