Stuffed Shell Weekend

When the temperature drops there are a lot of people who enjoy preparing and eating soups, stews and chilis. Me, I go straight for the Italian dishes! Pasta in a good meat sauce topped with cheese is my cold weather comfort food. So when the weekend arrives I like to prepare meals that will provide me with multiple nights’ worth of dinner options, like my stuffed shells in a vodka cream sauce.

This will make enough extra sauce that you can either freeze it or use it later in the week over rigatoni or spaghetti. And these shells are so filling that you’d better invite some friends over to help you eat this; otherwise you’re going to have it as leftovers for a good week!

Katt’s Stuffed Shells in Vodka Cream Sauce

Ingredients for the sauce:

Olive oil
3 carrots
3 stalks of celery
4 cloves of garlic
1 medium red onion
3 28 oz cans of San Marzano whole tomatoes
1 ½ cups of chicken stock
3 cups of vodka
Heavy cream
Salt and pepper
A handful of basil leaves

Most of my basic Italian tomato sauces are built this way. They all start out with the onion, celery, carrots and garlic, and also include chicken stock prior to the addition of the tomatoes. I always figure on one carrot and celery stalk per each 28-oz. can of tomatoes and I rarely use oregano as I prefer the sweet taste of basil alone. I also add the basil at the very end, about five minutes before I serve the dish. In this particular sauce, I like to add the vodka twice; once to infuse the vegetables and again to flavor the tomatoes.

Chop all of your vegetables and place them all together in a large bowl. Pour about 3 tablespoons of good olive oil in the bottom of a large stock pot and bring up to a high heat. Sauté the vegetables for about 5 minutes and then add one cup of vodka. Allow this to cook down until almost all of the liquid is gone and then add the chicken stock. Bring this up to a boil and then begin adding the cans of whole tomatoes one can at a time.

Take a potato masher and break up the tomatoes prior to adding each additional can. Once all of your tomatoes have been added, use a hand mixer and blend the sauce and vegetables thoroughly.

Allow this to simmer and add salt and pepper to taste. If you prefer less acidity, add a tablespoon of sugar. Let this simmer for a half hour and then add the remaining vodka. Simmer for fifteen minutes and then add the cream to taste. Tear the basil leaves by hand and add them to the sauce prior to serving.

Ingredients for the shells:

1 12 oz box of jumbo shells
Olive oil
1 small red onion
4 chopped garlic cloves
1 pd of hot Italian sausage (casings removed)
1 14 oz can of artichokes in water, chopped
1 15 oz container of ricotta cheese
¾ cup of parmesan cheese
¼ cup of chopped basil leaves
2 tblsp of chopped flat-leaf parsley
5 cups of vodka sauce
1 ½ cups of grated mozzarella

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and partially cook the pasta shells until they are tender but still hold their shape. Drain and rinse them in cold water.

In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons of the oil and add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are soft, about 3 minutes. Add the sausage and artichokes and cook until the meat is lightly browned.

Remove it from heat and allow it to cool, then add the ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, basil and parsley and mix well. Cover the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish with 1 cup of the vodka sauce and begin stuffing the shells with the sausage and cheese mix. Place the shells in the dish and continue until the baking dish is full. (You’ll probably have some shells leftover so be choosey about which of the cooked shells that you use.)

Once the baking dish is full, drizzle the vodka sauce over the shells and top with the grated mozzarella.

Place the dish uncovered into a preheated oven at 400 degrees and bake until the cheese is beginning to brown, about 20 -25 minutes. Allow the dish to cool, spoon the shells onto your plate, drizzle it with a little olive oil and sprinkle on more parmesan.


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