Serves 6 (about 5 stuffed shells per person)
The whole family loves this recipe, and it is a great dish to make when you have lots of guests coming for dinner. Once you’ve stuffed the shells and set them in the baking dish, the rest is easy. The delicious aroma will fill the house while your guests are having drinks, and the shells will arrive bubbling hot to the table. Let’s face it, everyone loves baked pasta— the chef and the guests.
- 1½ pounds whole-milk ricotta
- One 28 oz canned Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), plus more if needed
- Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
- 1 pound jumbo pasta shells
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup freshly grated Grana Padano cheese
- 3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1 large egg
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- ½ teaspoon crushed hot red pepper
- 10 fresh basil leaves
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 disc. (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 degrees F. Stir the shells into the boiling salted water, and cook, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until lightly 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 15-by-10-inch baking dish with about ¾ 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 each other in the baking dish as you fill them, spooning 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.