I had to search for the name of this pasta dish. I knew the dish, I hadn't tried it, but it was hovering there in my mind, ready to be pulled forth and thrown together.
I can't resist trying different pasta shapes, so when I saw these giant shells, my hand reached for them even before my brain had clicked into gear. I had no clear idea of what I would use them for, I just had to have them. A bit like shoes in that respect. No snidey comments please Graham, oh husband of mine!
So these gorgeous giant shells sat in the cupboard looking pretty until one evening, when my brother-in-law was coming for dinner. I wanted to make something different, but didn't want to do a big shop (hey I have a baby now, shopping isn't such a pleasure any more).
I had ricotta in the fridge, left over from making cheesecake brownies, spinach in the salad drawer, waiting to be made into soup and I always have ingredients to hand for making a basic tomato sauce. So Conchiglioni Al Forno (baked pasta) seemed like a good option. Of course at that point it was giant shells, stuffed with spinach and ricotta and topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella.
It is a great dish, but I somewhat spoiled mine. I only made one portion of tomato sauce and so when it came to layering the dish, I soon ran out and resorted to opening a carton of passata. The passata was slightly bitter and cannot be compared to a fresh tomato sauce, so I will be writing out the recipe for you with double the quantity of my normal sauce and I beg of you, do not use passata in this dish as a shortcut. Take the extra time and make a fresh sauce that will make your toes curl in pleasure (we are back to the shoes again!). Extra mozzarella on top would be nice too, but only for cheese-fiends like us.
Conchiglioni Al Forno
Cook in plenty of water according to the packet instructions until al dente. Rinse in cold water and set aside until you are ready to put the dish together.
Basic Tomato Sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped,
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 x 400g/14oz tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 handful freshly torn basil
Salt & pepper to taste
Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil, until the onion is translucent. Pour in both tins of tomatoes and cook for 20 minutes, until reduced and thickened. Season to taste, then add the basil at the last minute.
160g baby spinach
500g ricotta cheese
a good grating of nutmeg
salt and pepper
Place the spinach in a colander and pour over boiling water. The spinach doesn't need cooked, this softening is enough. Pour some cold water over the spinach and squeeze out as much of the water as you can before dabbing in a tea towel. Roughly chop the spinach and place in a bowl. Add the ricotta cheese and mix thoroughly. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.
2 balls mozzarella, grated
fresh basil leaves
Assembling The Dish
- Spread approximately one third of the tomato sauce across the base of a large ovenproof dish.
- Fill each pasta shell with the ricotta mix and place on top of the sauce until you have covered the base of the dish. Place the pasta open side up.
- Drizzle tomato sauce over the filled pasta and sprinkle with some fresh basil.
- Build another layer of filled pasta, cover with the remaining sauce and more basil.
- Top the finished dish with grated mozzarella.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cheese has melted and turned golden.
- Serve with garlic bread and a green salad. Try not to serve as much on each plate as I did, it is far too much. This pasta is very filling.