Serves 6 (about 5 stuffed shells per person)
- 1 1/2 pounds whole-milk ricotta
- One 35-ounce can peeled Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
- Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1/2 tsp. hot red pepper flakes
- 10 fresh basil leaves
- 1 pound jumbo pasta shells
Place the ricotta in a cheesecloth-lined sieve, and set the sieve over a bowl, allowing any liquid to drip out. Discard the liquid in the bowl.
Pass the tomatoes through a food mill fitted with the fine disk. (If you don't have a food mill, place them in a food processor, using quick on/off pulses until finely ground. Don't overprocess, or you'll incorporate air into the tomatoes and change their texture and color.) Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat for the pasta.
Slice half the mozzarella thin, and cut the remaining half into 1/4-inch cubes. Turn the drained ricotta into a mixing bowl, and stir in the mozzarella cubes, grated cheese, and parsley. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Beat the egg well, and stir it into the ricotta mixture.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Scatter the garlic over the oil, and cook, shaking the pan, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Carefully pour the tomatoes into the skillet. Add the crushed red pepper, and season lightly with salt. Bring the sauce to a quick boil, then adjust the heat to keep it simmering. Cook until the sauce is lightly thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir the basil into the sauce a few minutes before it is done.
Preheat the oven to 425° F.
Stir the shells into the boiling salted water, and cook, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until slightly firmer than al dente, about 7 minutes. Fish the shells out of the water with a large skimmer, and carefully lower them into a bowl of cold water. Let cool, then drain carefully.
Line the bottom of a 10-by-15-inch baking dish with about 3/4 cup of the tomato sauce. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture into each shell—the shell should be filled to capacity, but not overstuffed. Nestle the shells next to one another in the baking dish as you fill them. Spoon the remaining sauce over the shells, coating each one.
Arrange the slices of mozzarella in an even layer over the shells. Bake until the mozzarella is browned and bubbling, about 25 minutes. Remove, and let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Store the dish in portion sizes of four or six stuffed shells. Pour the sauce over them—do not bake—seal them, label and date them and then freeze. When you are ready to bake, defrost them, refresh with some additional sauce if necessary, top with cheese and bake according to direction in recipe. They will keep for up to two months.
Excerpted from Lidia's Favorite Recipes by Lidia Bastianich. Copyright © 2012 by Tutti a Tavola, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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