I planned the menu for my niece’s baby shower last week. As you know… I only plan vegetarian parties, so this baby shower would be no exception. Last time we catered a lunch, but after all that was left afterwards, I decided this time around I would do the catering myself.
Over the next few posts you’ll enjoy some of the creations I prepared for the event. I am pretty audacious because I am not afraid of trying a new recipe onto 20-30 unsuspecting guests. Some are really not that new… but new twists on old favorites. Some are just improvisations at the last minute. Like this stuffed shell recipe for example…
The main course for the baby shower menu was Broccoli/Cauliflower Stuffed Shells. You’ve already read about it here. Pastas are so popular among non-vegetarians and so easy to make in advance that I decided this would be the dish to wow once again some vegetarian lifestyle non-believers. I didn’t want to make lasagna like I did for my nephew’s birthday just a mere 6 weeks ago. But stuffed shells give you the same make-in-advance advantages but in a very different presentation. People just feel is something completely different, when in reality, it isn’t.
I was making 2 baking dishes of stuffed shells… so my instinct was boil two boxes of large pasta shells. I never knew how many shells that would yield. When I was halfway thru my broccoli/cauliflower filling I knew that I was going to run out of filling before I would run out of shells. So my instinct was to make a cheese/spinach stuffing with some extra cheese I had bought. My family always teases me that I exaggerate… maybe it’s the Cuban in me. But I always want to err on the side of caution… we have a saying in Spanish – “Pa’ que falte, que sobre.” which translates to that I prefer to have more food than we need than to be short. So I always buy a few extra cheeses and things when I am cooking for a party. Sometimes I don’t need them, but this time it came in extra handy.
CHEESE AND SPINACH STUFFED SHELLS
About 30 brown-rice pasta shells – I use the Tinkyáda brand 2 tbs olive oil, divided for the filling and the tomato sauce 15oz ricotta cheese 8oz package 1/3 less fat cream cheese 8 oz cottage cheese 1 cup parmesan cheese, divided 4 large handfuls of fresh baby spinach, chopped 1 handful of basil leaves, chopped for filling Another handful of basil leaves –chopped for sauce 28oz of diced tomatoes About 1 tbs apple cider vinegar 4 oz of crème fraiche 4 oz of sour cream ½ cup of milk 6 Slices of fresh mozzarella cheese Salt and pepper to taste Olive Oil
- Bring a large pot filled with salted water to a boil.
- While the water boils, add the pasta shells. Cook for about 5-7 minutes until they have grown in size a bit, are flexible to the touch, but still not fully cooked. Drain the pasta shells and rinse with cold filtered water to stop the cooking process and cool them enough to handle. Set aside.
- For the filling, mix together the ricotta cheese, cream cheese, cottage cheese, ½ cup of parmesan cheese, baby spinach and basil leaves for the filling. Season with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. It helps when the ingredients are at room temperature.
- For the tomato sauce, mix together the diced tomato, salt, pepper, vinegar, basil leaves and a small drizzle of olive oil. Set aside.
- For the white sauce that goes on top, mix together the crème fraiche, sour cream, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and season with some salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Now we assemble… in your baking dish 9 x 13 glass baking dish pour the tomato sauce on the bottom. Using a small spoon, fill each shell with the cheese mixture and place in the baking dish. I can accommodate about 3 rows of 10 shells each.
- After all the shells are filled and placed on the baking dish, spoon the white sauce over the shells. Now sprinkle some additional parmesan cheese on top of the white sauce and finish with pieces of fresh mozzarella on top.
- Now we bake at 400F for 25-30 minutes or until the top crust is golden brown. If you find the top is not browning, just turn the broiler on and watch the oven until it starts getting golden. Turn the broiler off and wait a few minutes. It’ll brown a little bit more with the oven off, you’ll see. As always… leave it there for about 10-15 more so it finishes cooking with the residual heat in the oven.
You can certainly assemble everything the night before your event, cover completely and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake. I usually take out of the fridge about 30 minutes before I want to bake… or before pre-heating the oven. Then bake as directed above.
This dish was such a hit!!!! Both, these shells and the original broccoli/cauliflower ones, were all a great success. Even my cousin has asked me to show her how to make the recipe. It’s simple, no?? She’s excited I am posting here, but she wants a full-on demo in her kitchen. So now I know what I am eating the night before the Miami ½ Marathon I am running next month!!!!
Have you ever come up with a recipe “on the fly” that was as successful as your original recipe???? Please share…