1/2 cup chopped plum tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 medium zucchini, finely diced
1 small eggplant, peeled and finely diced
1 bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
Salt and pepper
1 box of jumbo pasta shells
2 cups ricotta cheese
½ cup fresh chopped parsley
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided in half
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 cups Marinara Sauce mixed with 1/2 cup heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. In a greased 9×13″ pan, combine garlic, onion, thyme, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Spread out in an even layer on the bottom of the pan. Place the diced vegetables on top of the onion mixture, but do not combine. Drizzle with a little oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for about an hour, or until veggies are softened and beginning to brown slightly. Drain the vegetables in a colander and set them aside.
Cook the shells in boiling salted water for about 9 minutes, or until not quite done (you want them to finish cooking in the oven — that way they won’t be too floppy and overcooked). Drain and place on kitchen towels
In a mixing bowl combine, the stuffing ingredients and 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese. Mix until thoroughly combined. Stir in the roasted vegetables.
Scoop a tablespoon or so of ricotta filling into each pasta shell. Place a layer of sauce on the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Top with the remaining mozzarella.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly.
For the cake:
1 box (15.25 oz) red velvet cake mix
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
1 box (3.4 oz) chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup water
4 large eggs
For the topping
1 pint of fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into thin slices
¼ cup strawberry jelly
2 cups heavy cream
¼ cup powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a fluted tube cake pan with non-stick baking spray with flour.
Stir the cake mix, flour, and pudding mix together in a mixing bowl. Add the sour cream, oil, water, and eggs. Using an electric mixer, beat on low speed for 15 seconds. Increase speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes.
Pour batter into pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Allow cooling in the pan for 10 minutes. Turn the cake out onto a wire rack and cool completely.
Serve the cake sliced with strawberries and whipped cream.
The toppings can be prepared ahead of serving time. Refrigerate until needed.
Heat the jelly in the microwave for 30-60 seconds until it is melted. Stin in the sliced strawberries. Set aside to cool.
Whip the v\cream with powdered sugar.
Sicilian Ricotta Birthday Cake
We recently celebrated a dear friend’s birthday with a special dinner to honor him. I offered to make his birthday cake, as I know, he is found of Italian cakes, especially if they are made with ricotta cheese. There are numerous versions of the Sicilian Cassata Cake, but this is my version. One, where, I have worked out the flavors that we like in a cake of this type. If you want to make a special occasion cake, this is a great cake to make.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
2½ cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for the pans
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup whole milk
2 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
2 oz finely chopped good quality chocolate
Zest from one orange
Juice of one orange
½ teaspoon agave nectar
1 teaspoon white rum
2 cups heavy cream whipped
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
½ teaspoon orange extract
Candied orange peel
Cake writing decoration
To make the cake layers:
Heat the oven to 350°F.
Butter two 8 or 9 inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper cut into circles to fit, butter again and dust with flour, tapping out the excess.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.
Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
Beat in the vanilla, then the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions and the milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix just until combined (do not over-mix).
Transfer the batter to the prepared pans. The best way to get an even amount of batter in each pan is to weigh the pans on a scale. This is a tip I learned from Alton Brown and it works perfectly.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes for 8-inch pans and 22 to 25 minutes for 9-inch pans. Cool the cakes in the pans for 15 minutes, then turn out onto racks to cool completely.
To make the filling:
Combine the ricotta with the remaining filling ingredients in a storage bowl with a cover. Place in the refrigerator until ready to assemble the cake.
Once the layers are completely cool, cut each layer in half with a serrated knife to form four layers.
To make the syrup:
Combine the orange juice with the rum and agave in a small dish.Brush the syrup over the cut sides of the layers until it is all used. Let the layers rest for 30 minutes.
Place one layer, cut side up on a cake plate and spread some of the ricotta filling over the layer leaving a ¼ inch edge all around the cake without the filling. (This way the filling will not ooze out of the layer when you place another layer on top.)
Place the next layer, cut side up, on top of the filling and repeat with another layer of ricotta filling.
Repeat with the third layer, cut side up. Place the fourth layer, cut side down, on top of the ricotta filling.
Place the cake in the refrigerator while you make the whipped topping.
Make the Whipped Topping:
In a mixing bowl combine the heavy cream, orange extract and powdered sugar.
Beat the mixture until the cream forms soft peaks.
Remove the cake from the refrigerator and spread the whipped cream on the sides of the cake and then on the top.
Decorate the edge of the top of the cake with candied orange peel.
Write Happy Birthday in the center, if desired.