I came scarily close to calling these “deconstructed stuffed shells,” but I couldn’t bring myself to be that pretentious. The truth is, anytime you see any menu item with “deconstructed” in the name, it just means that the person making that dish was too lazy to actually put all the pieces together. At least I’ll admit it. My thought process before making this was, “Man, some stuffed shells would be awesome. Wait, they take like, an hour and a half and you use the oven? Never mind.” I figured I could wing it with this dish and still get all the pasta, cheese and sauce elements in my mouth at the same time.
Luckily, there was a good recipe for spicy red sauce in the New York Times the other day, so I added some meat to that, tossed it with regular-sized shells and melted in some ricotta and parmesan. Just like that, I had a delicious pan of semi-Italian food that would probably feed a family of six – much more food than I expected. So take this as a lesson – next time you have a craving for something, just take a bunch of shortcuts to get there and you’ll be rewarded with better and more food than you ever thought!
1/2 pound pork sausage (I used mild but I’d probably use spicy next time)
3 cups strained tomatoes
1 medium onion, grated
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine
1 pound large pasta shells
1 cup or more whole milk ricotta
Parmesan or pecorino
Salt & Pepper
LOTS of spices (I used oregano, thyme, dried basil and fresh basil, but you could also use Italian seasoning mix or any combination of fresh herbs. Go crazy)
- Fill a large pot with water and put on high heat to bring it to a boil for pasta.
- In a large oven-proof skillet over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When oil is hot add onions with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until softened – about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir into the onions, cooking until fragrant, another 3-5 minutes.
- Add sausage with another pinch of salt and break it up as you cook, browning the meat all the way through. When meat is browned, add garlic and cook for another minute until fragrant. Your kitchen should smell incredible now.
- Add wine to the pan; it should sizzle. Stir it into the meat mixture, scraping up any brown bits at the bottom of the pan. After a minute or so, the alcohol should all boil off – add tomatoes and chosen spices to the mixture. Stir thoroughly to incorporate.
- By this time, your water should be boiling. Let the sauce bubble away on medium while you cook your pasta according to directions on the package. Make sure to salt the water, add a touch of olive oil and remove the pasta when al dente – tender but still toothsome (I’m not totally unpretentious).
- Before straining your pasta, ladle a 1/3 cup or so of pasta water into the red sauce and stir it in. Strain pasta and add as much of it as you can to the red sauce, stirring to completely incorporate the two.
- Turn broiler to high. Scoop spoonfuls of ricotta into the pasta mixture, spacing them evenly. Grate parmesan or pecorino generously across the top of the whole skillet, then place under the broiler for 5-10 minutes or until cheese has melted and begun to brown. Serve yourself and 5 other friends or plan on eating this stuff for a week – not that you’d complain.