The Unfortunate Fungus Incident
One of my favorite foodie books (an ever-growing category if ever there was) is Hungry Monkey: A Food-loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater by Matthew Amster-Burton. My own 4-month-old monkey is still happily gorging himself day and multiple times each night on breast milk, and is growing steadily rounder as a result. However, as a godmother to two just-turned-four-year-olds, I found myself nodding along with many of the book’s tales.
One moment that remains caught between the teeth of my memory is when the author describes how he spent hours lovingly seasoning and reducing a pot of split-peas and ham in order to disguise some leftovers for yet another post-holiday meal. After he finally perfects the rich green broth, he confidently places it on the table for his family’s presumed enjoyment. His daughter inspects the bowl, smiles sweetly, and says something like, “But daddy, you know that I don’t like soup.” That’s right. Not peas, not ham, not green food. No, she has determined that she cannot stomach an entire category of cuisine, an entire course. Let me just say — I feel you, man.
For Christmas Eve, my men and I had our goddaughters, their six siblings and their mom over for dinner. We spent all day cooking, making ham, mashed potatoes and my own family’s traditional pre-festival meal, stuffed shells. With all those people on the way, I figured I had better have lots, so I made enough to fill 2 9×13 pans. All was going well that night, with the kids assisting in the making of taco dip as an appetizer and the shells stuffed and ready to go.
But then my husband made a critical error — he let slip to one of the kids that there were mushrooms in the shells. The news spread like grease fire. It did not matter that you could neither see nor taste the mushrooms. Their presence alone was menace enough. Some of the older kids still gamely tried my cheesy pasta goodness, but the damage was done. Fortunately, everyone still loved the ham. Probably because it hadn’t been made into soup.
Mom K’s Nice and Cheesy Stuffed Shells
1 box large pasta shells
1 15 oz. container of ricotta cheese
1 can tomato paste
2 c. water
3 T Italian seasoning
2 T olive oil
1 c. diced onions
4 cloves sliced garlic
1 pkg. frozen spinach
2 c. sliced mushrooms
2 c. mozzarella cheese (grated)
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese (grated)
Boil the pasta shells in salted water until al dente. Rinse with cold water and set aside.
Mix tomato paste, water and Italian season to make sauce. Set aside. (You can use jarred sauce, but I find it both more expensive and more likely to include weird unnecessary ingredients made from corn.)
Saute onions and garlic in olive oil. When they become soft, add mushrooms and continue to saute for 2 minutes.
Defrost spinach and squeeze out water.
Combine spinach, onions, garlic, mushrooms and all three cheeses in a large bowl.
Spoon filling into shells and place in 9×13 pan until all the filling has been used.
Top with tomato sauce and additional cheese if desired.
Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or until heated through.
Note: These make delicious leftovers.