I miss my Josephine dearly. She and I were good friends, in the end, and I spoke to her on the phone many times a week. I still think to call her all the time when I’m driving, to tell her of the antics Violet and I are up to and hear her raspy old voice shouting from Connecticut. When I was a girl we would visit my grandparents every Sunday; they lived a perfect distance, about an hour away from our house. We’d spend all day cooking, eating, browsing at the shops, visiting with extended family, playing Pokeno, and watching Mash and Barney Miller on TV, and leave for home when it got dark. She would always call out into the night from the back door, as we piled into our car, to “ring her twice”, so she would know that we arrived back safely. I think this had to do with long distance charges, which sets this story firmly in the past. Some Sundays my Grandpa Jack would slow cook a pot roast, in summer we barbecued in the backyard. And while there are many comfort dishes my grandmother was famous for, her stuffed shells are probably most iconic in our clan. Since she never divulged exactly how she made most things, I have freely adapted what I remember from her recipe, but it is in keeping with the spirit of red sauce Nonna home cooking. I’m ringing you twice, Josie, wherever you are, so you know that I am home safe.
Ricotta and Chicken Sausage Stuffed Shells
For the filling:
- 4 chicken sausage links, roughly chopped*
- 1 small tub whole milk ricotta
- 1/2 cup shredded Asiago cheese
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 1 egg
For the sauce:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 oz mushrooms, diced
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
- 1 cup baby spinach
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
For the shells:
- 1 box large pasta shells
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 oz fresh mozzarella, torn into bits
In a large mixing bowl, combine filling ingredients and set aside.
Drizzle olive oil into a large skillet over medium heat, add onions, season with salt and pepper, and stir. Add garlic, mushrooms, rosemary and saute, 7-10 minutes. Splash the wine into the pan, add the spinach and remove from the heat. Stir in the tomato paste.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook shells according to package directions.
When the shells are done, drain, stirring about 1/4 cup of the pasta liquid into the sauce. Spread the sauce into a 13 x 9 inch pan.
Stuff each shell with a heaping teaspoon of ricotta filling and place – tightly fit – in the pan. Drizzle the shells with olive oil, cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake, 30 minutes. Remove foil, top with mozzarella, and broil, 5-10 minutes, until browned.
* Packaged chicken sausage, ready to heat and serve