2. I alter almost every recipe I make the second time, if not the first. But not this one. I don't think there's really any way to top the amazingness going on in this dish.
3. Because this was the first "real" dish I ever made in our home together, it really pulls on the heart strings so I felt that it was appropriate for V-day weekend. I'm not lying... see? We didn't even have a dinner table back then!
4. A big happy [belated] birthday goes out to my bff- I guess this should be number one ;] Thanks for always sharing your valentines birthdays with me- they were the best!
This recipe is Giada's and it's to die for. Just don't look at the calorie counter and detox for the following week. Don't worry, it's worth it. Basically you fry up pancetta [bacon's European, sophisticated, and mysterious cousin] and mix it with spinach and ricotta. Don't forget to drain the cooked spinach! You can also double up on the spinach to feel less guilty if you feel the need. I don't.
After you boil some jumbo shells you stuff the mixture in them. I find you can get away with making the mixture ahead of time but wait for the pasta until you're ready. Once everyone is stuffed and sitting pretty I preheat the oven. Then I start my cream sauce. This is something that's really easy to do but if you haven't done it before you can easily flub it up. And nobody likes a flubber. Especially when you're
A roux is basically a mix of fat and flour. It's a win-win all around. This recipe calls for butter but if you wanted to be resourceful you could save the rendered fat from cooking the pancetta. So add yo' fat to the pan and cook until melted. I add my garlic at this point. And assuming we aren't having company, I'm talking about a couple of cloves. I go garlic-crazy. I let it cook a bit but obviously don't want it to burn. Then you add the flour. It will look like a paste.
This is where you need to be careful. After I've made a dish the first few times, I stop using a recipe. So I've made this sauce before and have completely ruined it by adding way too much flour. Everything will look fine although your roux will be much more than in the past. But your entire dish will taste like flour no matter how long you cook it. Bleh.
So I tend to go light on the flour. Cook for just a minute or two to get the "raw" taste of the flour out. And then you add the cream. But wait!
First, I lower the heat. Second, if you are using something lighter than whipping cream like 1% go low and slow with the heat to avoid curdling. If it looks lumpy or grainy, you've gone too far. Start over.
There are two main things I do next. I temporarily remove my pan from heat. I whisk in the cream [that I've tried to have sitting out for awhile] immediately as I pour it in the saucepan. I put it back onto the stove top and watch it closely. This can be time consuming as I don't increase the temperature rapidly. I want it to be a soft rumble, not a high boil. I've also gotten to the point where I can see it start to thicken up. So once I recognize that, I add my cheese. If you aren't sure, just wait for it to simmer and then add in the queso. Once the cheese is melted through I pour it over the baking pan of stuffed shells. Sprinkle leftover cheese on top. Pop that sucker in the oven and call it a day.
We use asiago cheese, what it calls for in the recipe. My friends find it to be a bit potent but I love it. It's stinky cheese love all the way over here. It's become my go-to for any seriously cheesy dish.
Also: because this dish is so amazing, your friends are going to be really intimidated. Use a paper plate to "keep things real" and to make them feel more comfortable. But they'll still know you have it goin' on, trust me ;]
Here's the deets from Giada:
12 oz jumbo pasta shells
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 lb pancetta, chopped
1 pkg frozen spinach, thawed and drained
15 oz ricotta
1 cup asiago, '
pepper & nutmeg to taste
1 tbsp butter
1 garlic clove or more like me
1 c heavy whipping cream
2 c grated asiago cheese
parsley to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
For the shells:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta.
Warm the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Remove the pancetta from the pan with a slotted spoon and transfer to a large bowl. Add the spinach, ricotta cheese, asiago cheese, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir to combine. Stuff the shells with about 2 tablespoons of the spinach mixture each and place the stuffed shells in a large, buttered baking dish.
For the sauce:
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the cream and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to very low and add the 2 cups asiago cheese, parsley, and pepper. Stir until the cheese is dissolved. Pour the sauce over the shells. Top with the remaining 1/4 cup asiago cheese. Bake until golden on top, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.