Let’s explore some things that are all shoved full-up with goodness:
Letters from long-lost friends.
Our favorite magazines.
The giant bag of fresh produce on grocery day.
The dryer load full of fresh, warm blankets.
The cooler on beach day.
Your son’s hands when they reach out and hold yours (when you thought he thought he was too old to do that anymore).
A nice long phone call with another woman, because we are the only ones who truly understand one another. That’s just Truth.
Fresh from a nap baby cheeks.
The secret stash of jellybeans in my nightstand. (Not such a secret anymore, is it?)
The stack of novels waiting for me on my end table.
The rack of fabric scraps at Joanne’s.
These pasta shells – that’s what my little guy says anyway.
1) that they’re awesome.
2) that they are “giant pasta rolls shoved up with broccoli, cheese, and mashed potatoes”.
If you are afraid of anything in the kitchen, I suggest you tackle it and conquer it sometime soon.
I feared making a bechamel, and now I don’t.
The whole process was interesting and delightful in a science-project-gone-perfect sort of way.
I feel so much smarter now.
Which brings me to another observation.
I SO would never, ever, in a million years, make it on Master Chef.
Unless I could squeak by like poor David Martinez.
If someone handed me a sea urchin and told me I had one hour to cook it, I would squawk and hide under the table.
If I had to soft boil an egg to impress Gordon Ramsey? I’d burst into tears instantly and make a bee-line sprint to the wine cooler, seeing as how I am repulsed by hard-boiled eggs so I’ve never even ventured seriously into the territory of cooking eggs in the shell – except for a couple of weeks ago when my kids claimed they wanted to try hard-boiled eggs and I had to look up how to make them.
Yes. That’s me.
Somehow though, learning how to hard boil an egg was not nearly as satisfying as making this pasta and conquering the bechamel.
I know this is very “wintry” food, but you can make summery excuses for it.
You can make it ahead and store it for later, so that when you come home from summering all day, you can just pop it in the oven.
You could use zucchini or summer squash to fill the shells.
You could serve it with sparkling white wine – very summery.
It makes enough for at least 8 people, so you could eat it outside at sunset with a big group of friends and drink sparkling white wine.
I believe those are all sufficiently summery excuses. Capisce?
A fantastic tutorial, if you are new to bechamel, is available here, where I found the inspiration for this dish.
- 1 (12 ounce) box large pasta shells
- 5 ounces prepared pesto
- 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
- 1 1/2 cups freshly grated parmesan
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella, divided
- 1 medium Yukon Gold potato, cooked and mashed
- 2 cups broccoli, steamed, and roughly chopped
- pinch of nutmeg
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- Cayenne pepper, a couple modest shakes
For the Sauce:
- 2 cups reduced fat milk, heated
- 3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup flour
- 2 ounces prepared pesto
- 1/2 cup freshly shredded parmesan cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- dash of kosher salt
- shake of garlic powder
- shake of cayenne pepper
Cook pasta shells according to package directions, less two minutes. When shells are finished cooking, drain and cool them on a tea towel until you are ready to stuff them.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the 5 ounces of pesto, ricotta, Parmesan, 1/2 cup of the mozzarella (reserve 1/2 cup for topping), mashed potato, chopped broccoli, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and cayenne.
Prepare either two 9"x9" baking dishes, or one 9"x13" baking dish by spraying lightly with cooking spray.
If cooking immediately, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Stuff each shell evenly with filling.
Place stuffed shells in a single layer in the baking dish(es). Set aside.
To prepare the bechamel, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Once butter is melted, add flour bit by bit, stirring with each addition until it is well incorporated. Continue to stir and cook for a couple of minutes.
Start adding hot milk a little bit at a time, mixing continuously, and not adding more until each addition has been fully incorporated.
Once all of the milk is incorporated, slowly add the pesto, then the Parmesan cheese.
Continue stirring, and cook on low until the sauce thickens.
Add in pepper, salt, garlic powder, and cayenne.
If your sauce ends up lumpy, either run it through a blender to puree and smooth it, or if you have an immersion blender, that'll do the trick as well.
Pour sauce evenly over the stuffed shells. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella over the top, and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Finish by broiling for 5 minutes, or until the cheese on top is beautifully browned.
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