Conchiglie Lasagne Ripiene (Lasagna Stuffed Shells)

Conchiglie Lasagna Ripienne, or in English, “Shells Stuffed with Lasagna,” or more appropriately for this particular recipe, “A Lasagna mixture stuffed into jumbo pasta shells.”  As you can see, the Italian term “Conchiglie Lasagna Ripiene” says it all, in a much more romantic and appetizing way.  As I mention in my page “Palatal Influences,” I grew up knowing little or nothing about “Italian food,” unless it came in a can with the label “Franco-American!”  Fast forward to my later adult years, after being married to the most wonderful “Chef De Cuisine” for nearly thirty years, who taught me to appreciate what pasta and genuine Italian food was all about, and to say I’ve developed both a greater understanding of these wonderful dishes and how succulently wonderful they are would be an understatement.

Of course, ambiance and environment are also vitally important to the culinary experience, and while consuming Italian fare in your own kitchen or dining room is one thing, having a similar dish in a tiny Italian bistro, at a small table covered with a red and white checkered tablecloth, an old wine bottle stuffed with a twisted wax candle all drippy down the neck of the bottle as the centerpiece, and perhaps accompanied by a terzetto of strolling musicians softly playing “O Solo Mio” in the background, will certainly raise the experience to a new level of gastronomic enjoyment.  Of course the ultimate setting would be the family table on the outdoor patio of an Italian villa in the heart of Italy’s Tuscany region, amid olive trees and warm breezes and perhaps a bottle of locally produced Chianti. But…absent our ability to always have such a setting, we go for the next best thing, which is a properly prepared Italian dish, prepared with our own hands, in our own kitchen, and served in the setting of our own home.  Voila, indeed!

If you like lasagna, you will love this recipe!  It is a simple variation on a theme, instead of layers of lasagna mixture and egg noodles, this one modifies the old tried and true formula by sandwiching the cheese mixture-stuffed shells between the layers of meat sauce on the top and bottom. The jumbo pasta shells are carefully and lovingly filled with a mixture of cottage cheese, mozzarella, a parmesan/romano/aisiago blend, salt, pepper, and parsley, then layered with the lasagna sauce and baked to a hot, melty, bubbly finish.  This is a one-dish meal which is easy to prepare and will have your family wanting second helpings! All the flavor of lasagna stuffed into pasta shells, but much quicker to make than a traditional lasagna dish.

Prep Time 20-30 minutes
Cook Time 25-30 minutes
Ready In 45-60 minutes

Ingredients

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  • 18-21 jumbo pasta shells
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground chuck or market ground beef (See Chef Notes Below)

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For the Meat Mixture:

  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion
    4 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 (12 ounce) 2 – 6oz cans tomato paste or 1 ( 12 oz can)
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can tomato sauce or 2 (8 oz cans)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

For The Shell Stuffing Mixture:

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  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups cottage cheese (alternate: Ricotta Cheese)
  • 1 (16 ounce) package shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 1/2 cup grated Asiago/Parmesan/Romano blend cheese (You may substitute Parmesan cheese if you prefer)
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F.

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Cook the pasta shells according to the general directions – use a large pan or pot (I like my 4-quart Berndes), fill it with water, either lightly salted or with a dollop of olive oil added (I use one/both/either) and heat to a rolling boil.  Add the pasta shells and stir carefully unto the water returns to a boil.  If you have a timer, set it for five minutes.  As the shells will continue to cook more completely during the baking process, you don’t want to overcook them at this point.  You want them to be in the “Al Dente” range, i.e., “firm to the bite.” (Italian – “firm to the tooth“) but definitely not mushy.  Pour the cooked shells into a colander, rinse with cold water; set aside and allow to drain.

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Use the time while the shells are cooking by heating a large skillet or fry-pan on a medium-high setting.  Add the ground beef, onion, garlic, salt and pepper, and cook until meat is browned, stirring occasionally during the process.  No need to overcook, just make sure it is browned well.

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Before proceeding to the next step drain the grease and then discard.  I just tilt the pan a bit and use a smaller spoon to dip out the grease and spoon it into an adjacent small cup or bowl.

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Add the tomato paste, tomato sauce, salt, oregano, and garlic powder; gently stir the ingredients together, then bring the mixture back to a low simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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Spread the cooked sauce mixture into a 9×13-inch lightly greased or spray oiled casserole/baking dish.  Use 1/2 of the sauce mixture, reserving the remaining half.

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Using a large glass mixing bowl, beat the eggs, then stir in the cottage cheese, 3/4 of the mozzarella cheese, the Asiago/Romano/Parmesan cheese blend, parsley, salt, and pepper.

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Carefully spoon the cheese mixture into the pasta shells and arrange them in the casserole dish.  If you prefer, load the cheese mixture into a quart-sized Hefty or Ziplock baggie then cut out one corner, and use it to squeeze the cheese mixture into the shells.

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When the filled shells have been arranged to your liking, spread the remaining 1/2 of the meat sauce mixture over the top of the shells.

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Sprinkle the shells and meat mixture with the remaining reserved 1/4 of the mozzarella cheese.

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Bake uncovered in the preheated oven until the shells are hot in the center, the mozzarella cheese is melted and browned, and the lasagna sauce is bubbly, usually about 25 to 30 minutes. Check them a couple of times during the baking process; you want the mozarella cheese lightly browned, but not burned.

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Serve Hot!! (If you really are a cheese nut/aficionado, you could even sprinkle a bit of the asiago/parmesan/romano blend on top)

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The finished dish keeps nicely in the fridge for a few days, even longer if frozen.  Re-heat on a lower temperature or use the microwave.

CHEF NOTES: Ground Chuck is typically around 80% lean and 20% fat.  “Market ground beef,” which I love to buy here in Florida at our local Publix Market, is essentially the trimmings from their meat department’s daily preparation of cuts for the serving cases.  One of the reasons I like it is because it comes from meat which is trimmed locally in the meat department, and doesn’t come in a plastic tube packed and shipped across the country from who knows where.  I think the term “buy local” takes on a hugely more important significance when it comes to meat products.

While it is a bit more fatty (Usually about 75/25) than chuck, we must remember that the fat provides a significant amount of the flavor, and if it causes too much leftover grease after cooking, it can always be drained before adding any additional ingredients.  I like to use market ground beef when it’s available, then default to ground chuck if necessary.

Parmesan Cheese – love it, love it, love it!  But in any recipe that calls for “Parmesan,” I always prefer to use my homemade blend of Asiago, Romano, and Parmesan.  I usually keep it on hand for any dish that calls for a “sprinkling,” especially on pasta dishes.  I blend equal parts of the three cheeses in a food processor, then store it in the fridge or freezer for future use.

Alternatives: Don’t be afraid to experiment.  For example, try using Italian Sausage instead of ground beef. (Or, a mixture of both).  If you’re into the vegan thing, try using a vegetarian-style meat crumble substitute.  Also, you can use a store-bought pasta sauce to mix into the meat mixture.  Another alternative is to add a can of tomato sauce, a can of diced tomatoes  and sauteed onions and/or garlic to the meat mixture.  I’ve already suggested Ricotta Cheese instead of Cottage Cheese, and many will prefer one over the other.  Again, these are all “Chef’s Choices,” and for you to decide!

Adapted from All Recipes (My changes/adaptations are noted in red)

Buon Appetito!

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BTW…if you liked this recipe, and you’re a fan of “stuffed shells” – as I certainly am, take a look at these recipes as well

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Mexican Stuffed Shells

 

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Baked Stuffed Shells Quattro Formaggi

Here’s the recipe links – Mexican Stuffed Shells and also  Baked Stuffed Shells Quattro Formaggi – and remember…”there’s more than one way to stuff a shell!”

 

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