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How about Italian?

Since Thursday – when we had the traditional Thanksgiving feast – we have had leftover turkey dinner night and turkey sandwiches for lunch. So tonight it is a total menu change – Italian Shells Stuffed with Ricotta with Meatballs and Italian Sausage.

Ricotta Stuffed Shells 

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Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (chili) flakes
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 4 medium cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • Half a sweet onion, finely diced
  • Two 26-28 ounce containers finely chopped Italian tomatoes

Filling:

  • 2 lbs (32 oz) container whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • 24 jumbo dried pasta shells

Directions

Oil two 13 x 9-inch baking pans, or equivalent. Set aside.

Bring a big pot of water to boiling and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

To make the sauce:

Combine the olive oil, red pepper flakes, sea salt, onion and garlic in a cold saucepan. Stir while you heat the saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute just 45 seconds or so until everything is fragrant – you don’t want the garlic to brown. Stir in the tomatoes and heat.  Simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the  heat and let cool.

To make the filling:

Combine the ricotta, egg, parsley and salt in a medium bowl. Mix until combined, then stir in the mozzarella. Set aside.

To make the pasta:

Cook the shells according to package instructions in well-salted water – until barely al dente. Don’t overcook the shells or they will tear as you attempt to fill them. Drain and let cool  on kitchen towels until you can handle them with your hands.

Spread 1/3 of the sauce across the bottom of each prepared pan. Fill each shell with ricotta filling, and arrange in a single layer in the pan. Ladle the remaining sauce over the shells, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, uncover for the final 15 minutes or until the shells are cooked through and the cheese is bubbly. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

Serves 6-8

Meatballs and Italian Sausage

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For the Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Half medium sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • One 26-32 oz container imported chopped Italian tomatoes (Preferably without salt or sugar added)
  • 6 oz can (170 g) tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (chili)
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt  
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 or 4 basil leaves

For the Meatballs and Sausage

  • 2 lbs lean ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 slices sandwich bread, crusts removed
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb Italian sausage

Directions

To make the sauce:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Add the sausage and brown on all sides; then remove to a plate. Slice the sausage into 3-inch lengths,

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Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion is soft. Add the tomato paste and fill the empty can with water and add it to the pot.

Stir well and cook the paste a minute or two. Add the chopped tomatoes and the remaining ingredients. Bring the sauce to a boil, lower the heat to low.

Place the lid on the pot but leave it ajar and cook the sauce until thick, about 2 hours. When the meatballs and sausage are browned, add them to the sauce after it has been cooking for 1 hour.

Stir the meatballs carefully so they do not break.

Place the meatballs and sausage in a large bowl and pour some of the sauce over the meat. Serve extra sauce on the side.

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To make the meatballs:

Combine the bread cubes with the milk in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Heat the oil in a small skillet and add the onion and garlic.Cook until the onion is soft. Remove the pan from the heat and cool the onion to room temperature.

In a large  mixing bowl combine the beef with the cooled onion, the bread and the soaking liquid with the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and form the mixture into 12 meatballs.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Place the meatballs on the baking sheet and bake the meatballs until brown all over, about 20 minutes.

Italian Mixed Green Salad

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Any of the following:

  • Mixed baby lettuces
  • Cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • Olives
  • Tomatoes
  • Red onion, sliced
  • Italian vinaigrette

Toss the ingredients together just before serving.

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