24 uncooked jumbo shells
2 cups concentrated vegetable stock
1 large carrot, minced
1 large baking potato, peeled and finely diced
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 whole egg, well beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Italian or Sicilian seasoning
2 cups homemade tomato gravy (recipe below)
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese (or more as desired)
1 large loaf hot garlic bread
First off, cook the pasta shells according to package directions.
Then rinse, drain, and cool them. Hint: You might want to coat them lightly with olive oil to keep them pliable and prevent them from sticking together.
Next, In a large saucepan, heat the stock to boiling.
Then stir in the carrots, potatoes, and onions and cook them until the vegetables are fork-tender.
When they’re ready, drain them well (you can discard the stock at this point).
Now it’s time to combine the softened veggies with the ricotta, mozzarella, egg, and one-half cup of Parmesan cheese in a large bowl.
Then fold in the Italian seasoning.
And when the mixture is uniform, fill each cooked and cooled shell with this cheese mixture.
Meanwhile, set them aside momentarily.
In the meantime, put together your homemade tomato gravy. See the recipe below.
When it’s ready, pour one-half to three-quarters cup of the gravy into the bottom of a 9x13” baking pan (you want to make sure you liberally cover the bottom of the pan).
Then arrange the stuffed shells in a single layer—touching each other is okay—on top of the gravy.
Finish up by pouring another cup or so of the gravy over the top of the shells. Now sprinkle liberally with the Romano cheese.
At this point you’re ready to bake.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Then “tent” the pan of shells with a sheet of aluminum foil, slide the pan into the oven on the center rack, and bake for 20-25 minutes until the shells are tender.
All that’s left now is to uncover the pan and continue to bake 10 to 15 minutes more until the shells are hot and bubbly.
When you’re ready to eat, serve up one or two shells per person on a plate, alongside a cold, crisp Italian salad with gorgonzola dressing and a piece of hot garlic bread. Garnish the plate with a liberal sprinkling of Romano cheese
To prepare the shells for the freezer, allow them to come to room temperature once they come out of the oven.
Then place them in the refrigerator until they thoroughly chill.
At this stage you can wrap, label, and freeze the pan of pasta for up to 90 days.
When you’re ready to serve the shells that you’ve frozen, first remove the pan from the freezer and allow it to thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
Then bake the pan as directed above.
To thaw and reheat individual shells, microwave on 50 percent power for about 3 minutes until thawed.
Then finish cooking them by microwaving them at 60 percent power for about 3 to 4 minutes or until the shells are hot and bubbly.
To make homemade tomato gravy:
In a heavy 5-quart Dutch oven, heat ½ cup extra virgin olive oil to medium high.
Then drop in one medium-size chopped onion, 3 tablespoons mined parsley, and 4 to 6 cloves of minced garlic.
Then—stirring constantly—lightly sauté everything until the onions just soften (it is not necessary to brown them and you don’t want the garlic to burn). About three or four minutes should do it.
When the onions, parsley, and garlic are ready, add 1 large can of tomato paste to the pot, rapidly stir it into the mix, and cook everything together (stirring constantly) for about a minute or two until the paste, onions, parsley, garlic, and olive oil are mixed well.
At this point, add exactly 3 tomato paste cans of vegetable stock to the tomato paste and stir again until the mixture is silky smooth and you begin to notice a “gravy” forming.
Keep in mind that the secret to making outstanding red gravy the right consistency is to use three cans of water for every one can of tomato paste. This is not optional and should be followed as gospel!
When the sauce is thoroughly mixed, stir in a pinch of basil, a little Sicilian seasoning, and 2 small bay leaves. It’s at this time that you can re-season the gravy with sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper to your taste.
Now simmer the gravy for about 20-30 minutes, stirring continuously, to finish cooking it before you use it on your shells.
Variation: If you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to make homemade gravy, no sweat! Simply use a jar of your favorite commercially prepared spaghetti sauce in its place. Just don’t tell anyone it’s not homemade! And don’t you ever tell anybody I told you to do this!!!
To “tent” the pan means to loosely lay a sheet of foil over the top of it without crimping or sealing the edges, thereby giving the moisture in the food a means to escape while it cooks.