I like to think back to the prior times, I remember fondly, and a smile spreads across my face. I was merely a girl back then, with a sunny disposition and her whole life ahead of her…
A chill was in the air. Frosted breath hung around me like a cold fog settling over a vast paddy. The early setting sun was long disappeared. The time: 6:00pm. The day: Friday. One thought had been circling my brain as I humped* through the workweek. I tried dismissing it, but its nagging claws kept sinking themselves deeper into my soul. Soon it surrounded me, it was a part of me, and I had no choice but to obey. My last thoughts before I fell headfirst into the aromatic abyss “I don’t know if making Stuffed Shells is the right thing to do, but god dammit I love my country”
I returned to my hootch*, ready to answer the animalistic call of the Shell. But where to start? My initial instinct was to mix the ground up raw sausage with rich cheese and vegetables to stuff into the crunchy and unforgiving edges of uncooked pasta, then subject the filled monstrosity to the oven, everything cooking in the acidic and red tomato juices. My naiveté shone through me like a flare*, I knew I needed to double back and get more intel. And thank god I did.
Pouring over various recipes for what seemed like days (sidenote: it was about 8 minutes) I was armed with the knowledge of how to circumnavigate my enemy: poorly made stuffed shells. I almost fell into the trap, the trap of number ten* food made in a poor manner. It’s easy to fall victim of bad food here, a woman’s got to keep her wits about her. I began by plunging the shells into boiling NOUC*, and retrieving them only then they were just shy of al dente. In an effort to stretch my already-burowed time, I began to brown meat with the onions and mushrooms, finishing by wilting the spinach. I thought I was on course, I thought I knew the territory, but in the end, I was still just a newbie. This is where things began to turn…
As I began to prepare the filling, the shells had reached their desired boiled consistency. I needed to evacuate them into the colander. To my shock and horror the shells began to stick together the longer they remained exposed to the unforgiving air in my kitchen sink. I had to act fast. I finished the filling with hurried and shaky hands, each moment flying past my eyes in a blur. I made a rash last minute decision to throw in some Trader Joe’s roasted red pepper spread, was it the right choice to make? We’ll never know. It was time to light up* this dish. I thrust my hands into the ever-more-rapildy stuck together shells, plucking one at a time, and spooned healthy portions of the meat mixture into each cavernous piece. I was working at a sprinter’s pace, seeing moves that were 6, maybe even 7 shells away. I knew I was going to make it out on the other side, I was once again going to see the sun rise over those frosted downtown Ann Arbor buildings, I just wasn’t sure if I had enough charge* to stuff all these shells. Soon my confidence left me like an abrupt exhale: the shells began fusing more stubbornly to one another. It was time to ramp up my attack.
SPLOOSH–a rush of cold water ran over the shells as I massaged each one off of it’s neighbor. I bought myself another minute, maybe 2? I couldn’t stop and linger on the thought too long, I had to complete my mission.
I came to the end of my baking pan with ample shells and filling left unmarried. I had to act quick. A quick spin, cupboard open, and grab later, I was filling up a second, smaller Cherry*. As quickly as it began, the pans were in the hot, dry ovens, and I was prepared to wait 40 mikes*. I was ready for a dustoff*.
—Disclaimer— I was re-reading “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien during the making of this meal. I had a very specific Vietnam-style of dialogue going on in my head while I was scrambling, so I tried to translate that to this. I took my inspiration from one of the best Simpsons quotes of all time:
“The year was 1968. We were on recon in a steaming Mekong delta. An overheated private removed his flack jacket, revealing a T-shirt with an ironed-on sporting the MAD slogan “Up with Mini-skirts!”. Well, we all had a good laugh, even though I didn’t quite understand it. But our momentary lapse of concentration allowed “Charlie” to get the drop on us. I spent the next three years in a POW camp, forced to subsist on a thin stew made of fish, vegetables, prawns, coconut milk, and four kinds of rice. I came close to madness trying to find it here in the States, but they just can’t get the spices right…”
- Humped=to walk or go about
- Hootch=house or living quarters
- Dustoff=medical evacuation by helicopter
- Flare=illumination projectile
- Number ten=bad
- Light Up=to fire on the enemy
- Charge=an amount of explosive, powder, etc required to perform a task
- Cherry=new troop replacement
Here is the recipe, with juuuust a little less drama
- 1 lb Jumbo Shells
- 4-5 Sausages, casing removed (I used Jennie-O Hot Italian Sausage)
- 1/2 Onion, diced
- 1 C Mushrooms, diced
- 1 C Spinach, chopped
- 1 C Ricotta
- 1.5 C Shredded Cheese
- 3 Tbs Red Pepper Bruschetta
- 1 Jar Pasta Sauce
- Preheat oven to 400 F
- Boil pasta until just under al dente (about 6 minutes), strain, and toss in cold water
- Meanwhile, saute onions until translucent (about 3 minutes), add sausage and cook for 3 minutes, breaking sausage into small pieces (feel free to use the “smash” technique). Add mushrooms and spinach and continue to cook until all the sausage is browned and the spinach is wilted. Drain off excess fat from the sausage mixture.
- In a large bowl combine ricotta cheese, 1 C of the shredded cheese, red pepper spread and sausage mixture.
- Spread 1/3 of the pasta sauce on the bottom of a shallow and wide oven-proof dish.
- One by one, grab the shells, fill with the mixture, and place open side up in the dish. Continue until mixture is used up.
- Top with remaining sauce (be sure to get in-between the individual shells), and then top with remaining shredded cheese.
- Cover with foil, and bake for 40 minutes. Take foil off, and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes.