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Ricotta-and-Fontina-Stuffed Shells with Fennel

Monday, January 14, 2013

Recipe adapted from Food & Wine magazine.


We all know I'm a huge fan of comfort food and Italian flavors, so what could be better than stuffed shells?  This dish has been on my list for quite a while now, and after recently coming across October's 2012 issue of Food & Wine (with their amazing shot of stuffed shells glaring at me), I knew it was time to give it a try.  This is a great family-style dish that gets a sophisticated touch due to both the flavors from caramelized fennel and nutty Fontina along with the visual touch of the fennel leaf.  Although any recipe is best when made and served together in one process, this is a recipe that could be made a few days in advance and then baked an hour before you plan to eat.

One thing I want to try next time is bedding the pan with marinara (as the recipe already states), and then topping with a béchamel sauce rather than another serving of marinara.  What sorts of Italian comfort foods are either your go-to dishes or on your wishlist to try?

INGREDIENTS:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 fennel bulbs, halved and thinly sliced
1 medium white onion, halved and thinly sliced

12 ounces jumbo shells

2 cups fresh ricotta cheese
6 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large eggs, beaten

3 cups marinara
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 pound ground hot pork (or your favorite kind of ground meat)

Fennel leaves

DIRECTIONS:

In a large skillet, melt the butter into the oil.  Add the fennel and onion and cook over medium heat until caramelized (about 25 minutes).  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Once fully cooked, remove from heat and cool.

While the vegetables are cooking down, heat a large pot full of water until boiling.  Salt, and add the pasta until al dente.  It's important that the pasta isn't fully cooked since it will finish cooking in the oven.  Once pasta is al dente, drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.  Reserve pasta.

In a large saute pan, cook the ground pork until fully cooked.  Drain any excess fat.

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Gently combine the cooled vegetables to the ricotta and half of the Fontina.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and then incorporate the eggs.

In a separate bowl, mix the marinara with the pork sausage and heavy cream.

Pour half of the marinara mixture into the bottom of a 9"x13" baking dish.  Stuff each pasta shell with a rounded tablespoon of the filling and place the shells in the pan (they'll be tightly packed).  Top the shells with the remaining half of the marinara mixture and sprinkle with the remaining Fontina.  Bake for 40 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown.

Let rest for 10 minutes, and garnish with fennel leaves.

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