Italian sausage-stuffed shells

July 31, 2008

Who doesn’t love Italian food? From familiar main dishes like spaghetti and lasagna to decadent desserts such as cheesecake and cannoli, it’s hard to even talk about this category of cuisine without our mouths starting to water.

Italian stuffed shells is one of Jamie’s favorite meals, but Jerry isn’t too fond of the “traditional” recipe for this dish, which includes mozzarella, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, because he doesn’t like the taste or texture of ricotta. So he developed his own version using muenster cheese instead of ricotta, and Jamie liked it even better than the shells she grew up with (sorry Mom!).

A few notes on this recipe: We really feel that fresh herbs are essential here. It will make this dish cost a little more, but it’s well worth it. Also, the omission of eggs is intentional. While most traditional stuffed shell recipes use eggs as a binder, we find that the fat in the Italian sausage, coupled with a few tablespoons of olive oil, works just as well.

Italian sausage-stuffed shells

3/4 pound mild Italian sausage, casings removed

1/3 cup oregano leaves, chopped

1/3 cup Italian parsley, chopped

1/3 cup basil, chopped

2 tablespoons thyme leaves

1 bulb garlic, peeled and minced

8 ounces muenster cheese, shredded

16 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded and divided

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

20-24 jumbo pasta shells, prepared according to package directions and cooled

Your favorite pasta sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium saute pan over medium-high heat, crumble Italian sausage and cook until no longer pink. Remove from pan. Drain and cool.

In a large mixing bowl, combine oregano, Italian parsley, basil, thyme, garlic, muenster cheese, half of the mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese and salt. Mix (it might get messy, but your hands will work best here) until ingredients are well combined. Add sausage and 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and mix again. Add more olive oil as needed until the mixture sticks together when squeezed in the palm of your hand.

Spread 1/ 2 to 1 cup of pasta sauce on the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish (this will prevent the shells from sticking). Stuff shells with the Italian sausage and cheese mixture, and place seam side down in the baking dish. When all the shells have been filled, pour pasta sauce over them, and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella cheese.

Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling.

Serves 6 to 8 people.

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