Wednesday, July 22, 2020

ITALIAN Cheese & Meat JUMBO SHELLS with Pesto

ITALIAN Cheese & Meat 

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit 
This recipe will fill 2 dozen jumbo shells
(with a dozen empty shells leftover) in a
 9" X 13" Casserole
(I use a large round Le Creuset pan)

Homemade Marinara Sauce
    (or best authentic store-bought option: "Classico Tomato & Basil")
28 oz. can of Cento San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
2T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Cup finely chopped Onion (approx. 1/2 of Yellow or White onion)
1/8 Cup (2 packed Tablespoons) of fresh minced Garlic
1/4 Cup loosely filled chopped fresh Basil (Chiffonade then chop.)
1 teaspoon of dried Oregano
1 Tablespoon Sea Salt
1 teaspoon of freshly ground black Pepper

Heat 2 T of olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.
Add onion; stir one minute (until translucent). Do not let brown.
Add garlic; stir 30' to 1" (Do not let brown.)
If they brown start over; it will ruin the sauce.
Add tomatoes, basil, oregano, salt & pepper.
Stir and break apart tomatoes with the end of a flat-edged wooden spoon (or regular spoon). The tomatoes will break down on their own a lot, as well.
Turn burner to low, cover the saucepan and simmer for approximately 20" until it is reduced slightly, but the tomato chunks are still visible. In other words, don't make a crushed tomato sauce, nor let it become too reduced and thickened.
Once it is done, remove it from the burner.

    (or best authentic refrigerated brand: "Buitoni #1 Best Selling Refrigerated Pesto")

2 Cups Fresh Basil Leaves (washed, patted dry well) packed
2 Large Garlic Cloves (Then TASTE.) You may want to add another clove.
2 Tablespoons of Pine Nuts (optional)
1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Cup of finely grated Fresh Parmesan Cheese (Use a Microplane.)

I honestly add all ingredients at once into the food processor and pulse until completely blended.
Traditionalists pulse basil, garlic, and pine nuts first, then add oil & Parmesan.

Ground Beef Mixture:

One Pound Lean 85/15 or 80/20 Ground Beef
1/2 Cup finely chopped Onion (the other half that you used for the sauce)
1/8 Cup (2 packed Tablespoons Fresh Minced Garlic) ~ same as sauce
2 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4 teaspoon black Pepper
1 teaspoon dried Oregano

Heat 2 T Olive Oil in a saucepan over medium-high.
Add 1/2 Cup of finely chopped Onion.
Stir one minute or less, until translucent.
Add 1/8 Cup finely minced Garlic
Crumble in the ground beef.
Wash hands.
Chop the meat apart with a flat-edged wooden spoon, flip and stir until no longer pink, but not browned too much. This is going to cook for 40" in the oven.
Add 1 teaspoon of dried Oregano (and the salt & pepper)
Stir well.
Remove from heat.

Fresh Cheese Mixture:

32 oz. Ricotta cheese
1 Cup Fresh Mozzarella cheese
1/2 Cup Fresh Real Parmesan cheese
1 to 2 Tablespoons of fresh finely chopped parsley 
1 egg

Shred Mozzarella cheese & finely grate the Parmesan cheese.
It is easiest to do this if they are cold.
Add to the Ricotta cheese (in a large bowl).
Add 1 Tablespoon of the fresh parsley.
Blend REALLY well.
If it needs more flavor, add a pinch at a time of parsley or salt (sparingly) making sure that you incorporate it all completely before each taste (& use clean spoons each time, of course).
Keep in mind that you are going to add the very seasoned beef AND it will be topped with pesto after it is cooked.
Then scramble the egg, and stir in very well.
Now fold in the cooled meat.
Make sure it is all evenly blended.

Parboil Jumbo Pasta Shells:
1 (12 oz.) box of uncooked Jumbo Pasta Shells

Fill a Stockpot half full of cold water. Bring to a boil, then add 2 Tablespoons of Sea Salt. Reduce the temperature to Medium, and carefully glide the shells into the water with the help of a slotted spoon.
Stir gently & occasionally for several minutes.
Fill a baking sheet with cold water (next to the stovetop).
When the shells are soft, but not enough that they could tear, remove the pot from the burner, and scoop them out (a few at a time) with the slotted spoon, into the baking sheet of cold water.
Remove them from the water and onto paper towels or flour sack towels separating them.


Pour 1//3 of the Marinara sauce in your casserole.
Using a kitchen tablespoon, scoop a quenelle of the meat and cheese mixture into each shell.
(See in the video how to easily scoop a quenelle or rochet against the side of the bowl by turning the spoon.)
Position the shells on an angle next to one another.
Spoon 1/3 of the sauce onto the corners of the shells.
(The last third of sauce will be reheated and used when plating.)


Cover the casserole with aluminum foil and bake at 350 F for 40"
or until the sauce is bubbly & the cheese is melty.


I place 3 shells on each plate, drizzle the pesto on them, top the 3 with a line of marinara sauce, and a leaf cluster of basil.

I highly recommend that you add some extra pesto,  cheese, and sauce on the side. (You can see my "Italian flag" example in the photo.) When you drag each bite of thee shells through any of these, it really is a flavor game changer.