Artichoke and Lemon Stuffed Shells

It’s been a very hectic week here at One Woman’s house.  Crazy work schedule; plumbers and contractors underfoot; and a dinner guest on Wednesday night.  The only way to make it work was to find a recipe elegant enough for a guest that I could put together the night before and could finish quickly after getting home from work.  Pretty tall order, but I think I found the right thing.  These shells are elegant and rich without being overwhelming.

I couldn’t find any frozen artichoke hearts so I used a can, drained and patted dry.  It wasn’t quite the same amount as a package of frozen, but seemed to work just fine.  My shells were also a little more rich than the original recipe intended.  I didn’t have any milk in the house, but as luck would have it I had some heavy cream from Homestead Creamery.  Yum.  So I used 1 1/2 C of cream with 1/2 C of water in the sauce.  Other than that I followed the recipe up to the point of putting the dish in the oven.  I put these together the night before, covered them and refrigerated them overnight.  The next day I set the dish on the stove top while the oven preheated and then baked the shells as directed by the recipe.  All good.

Follow the recipe carefully for the sauce. This is just a basic white sauce until the point that you add the lemon juice. Having a good white sauce in your cooking arsenal is important. Once you’ve mastered it you can do almost anything with it.

These are a really nice change from the typical, bland ricotta filled shells you normally encounter.  The filling is tart and salty from the lemons and artichokes.  The cheese is parmesan and if you use a good one has a really lovely flavor.  Please don’t use parmesan out of the can.  It just tastes like salt.  A sprinkling of chopped parsely or basil would have been nice for presentation.  It’s a very white dish.  I served it on colored plates so the food didn’t just disappear.  The rest of the meal was a salad of spring greens with mandarin oranges and a vinaigrette made with olive oil, white balsamic vinegar and lemon juice.  The oranges provide a nice sweet counterpoint to all the tart brinyness of the pasta.  I also had some homemade rolls and they go well with everything!  The review from my dinner guest was a good one, and since I sent him home with leftovers I certainly hope he was serious!

Good? Yes.
Easy? Mostly. Nice that you can do them ahead.
Good for company? Yep, but completely doable for a family dinner too.
Special shopping? Nope.

Stuffed Shells

INGREDIENTS

Shells

18 jumbo pasta shells (approximately half of a 12-ounce box)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped small
12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and patted dry
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup (1 1/4 ounces) finely grated Romano cheese
1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Sauce

4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 C water
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

PREPERATION
Cook the shells: Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, and cook shells according to package directions. Drain and toss with a teaspoon or two of olive oil, to keep them from sticking.

Make the filling: Melt butter in a heavy 12-inch skillet (or the bottom of the dried-out pot you used to cook your pasta, if you’re into dirtying fewer dishes) and cook it until it turns nutty and brown, stirring occasionally to keep the solids moving on the bottom of the pan. Once it is a nice nutty brown, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, then the onions and cook them until they are lightly brown and caramelized, about 7 minutes. Add the artichoke hearts and cook them until they are softened a bit, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook it until it completely disappears.

Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool slightly, before transferring it to the bowl of a food processor. Add both cheeses, the yolks, lemon juice, salt and black pepper and pulse in the food processor until well chopped but still retains a little texture.

Make the sauce: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan (or the wiped out pot you made the artichoke filling in, if you’re into spending less time scrubbing pots) over medium-high heat. Once melted, add the flour all at once and whisk it until smooth. Add the cream and water, a small glug at a time, whisking constantly so no lumps form. Once the mixture has reached a batter-like consistency, you can begin adding the cream in larger pours at a time, whisking the whole time. Once all the cream is added, add the garlic and bring the sauce to a boil, stirring frequently. Once boiling, it will immediately begin to thicken. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for two to three minutes before stirring in the ricotta, lemon juice, salt and black pepper. Adjust salt, pepper and lemon to taste.

Assemble the dish: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour two cups of sauce (you’ll have about 2 1/2 cups total) into the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Scoop one tablespoon of artichoke filling inside each cooked shell; this will fill it but still allow the sides to close and neatly hold the filling intact while it bakes. Nest each pasta shell in the sauce, seam up. Dollop a spoonful of the remaining sauce over each shell. Cover the dish with foil and bake it for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake it for a final 15 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley or basil, if using, and serve immediately. If making a day ahead cover the dish with foil and store in the refrigerator overnight. Then follow the remaining baking instructions.

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