Halllooooo! And welckome to the Frrrrench Chef!
Yeah, you thought I was Julia Child, didn't you? Especially the way I hung all over that cccckckckkk-sound in "Welckome". The venerable Mrs. Child did have an astonishingly unique speech pattern, did she not? If you're too young to know what I'm talking about . . . no you're not. Because I'm sure you must have seen Meryl Streep in her dead-on interp of Julia in the movie "Julie and Julia." If you saw Ms. Streep, you saw Ms. Child. (And how freaky was it that Meryl Streep was able to go from narcissistic fashion magazine magnate, to hippie-dippie '80's music lover, to strange-voiced-amazonian-French-cooking-expert, to puritanical lipless nun over the course of two years and never have any overlap in her performances? Oh yeah. Meryl is my Mecca. I bow in her general direction twice a day.)
So anyway, I was browsing through a certain EverythingExpert's magazine, which was filled with lots of things that I fantasize about doing to my home and life but never will–such as baking squid-ink soufflé and weaving wallpaper directly from silk-worms–and I came across a recipe for Stuffed Shells. Pasta shells, not sea shells. Those would have sand and the roar of the ocean in them and there would be no room for ingredients.
Well I thought, "THAT'S IT! I'm tired of sitting on the sidelines of this magazine and also of Meryl Streep (which really had nothing to do with anything)! I'm going to step up and MAKE THESE PASTA SHELLS! Especially since they contain Radicchio which I hate because it is so bitter and awful! I will overcome the Radicchio! And the EverythingExpert! And Meryl Streep!"
So I did.
And the stuffed shells were outstanding. Here is the recipe for your eating pleasure.
(Where recipe credit is due: Lucinda Scala Quinn)
1 box (12 oz) jumbo pasta shells
1 tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling (I forgot to drizzle. Drizzle-free shells were fine)
4 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped (This is super-thinly sliced ham or bacon. And it is pronounced "pro-shoe-toe" not "proscweeeetoh." I learned this after spending an evening saying "proscweeeeetoh" all over an Italian restaurant, until finally the people who had brought us couldn't take it anymore and educated me. Yeah, well, I'd like to see them try to pronounce Vichyssoise. Which, as we all know, is "vitcheeee-sauce.")
3 garlic cloves, minced (Don't be a wussy-pants-cook and use powdered garlic. Real stuff only please. You can buy it pre-minced if you're lazy like me.)
1 red onion, chopped
1 head radicchio, cored and shredded (4 cups) (I know. It's not natural. But move forward with faith, young padawan. You too shall overcome the radicchio)
1 tsp. red-wine vinegar
12 oz fresh ricotta cheese (1 1/4 cups) (Someone want to tell me why the abbreviation for "ounce" is "oz"? Were "ounces" invented by the Wizard?)
8 OZ fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes (1 cup)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
5 cups favorite tomato sauce
Unsalted butter, for dotting (I used salted. Not convinced either kind is necessary. Also it was next to impossible to make little dots out of the butter. I recommend chilling it first. Maybe using a hole punch.)
Garnish (I'm not even going here. I think garnishes are silly. If it's on my plate I'm eating it. I'm not going to gaze admiringly and coo over the cleverness of it.)
– Bring large pot of water to boil. Cook pasta shells for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse. Transfer to bowl. Drizzle with oil if you want.
– Heat oil in large high-sided skillet over medium heat. Cook prosciutto, garlic, and onion, stirring until the prosciutto starts to caramelize, 6-8 minutes. Add radicchio that you've spent the last 45 minutes shredding only to come up with a tablespoon of finely shredded stuff plus three and a half cups of long jaggedy pieces that didn't make it through the shredder.
– Cook until radicchio is tender but not mushy – 4 minutes. Stir in vinegar; cook until evaporated (like a second or two). Let cool slightly. Stir in ricotta and mozzarella; season with salt and pepper.
– Pour 2 cups tomato sauce into the bottom of large casserole pan (9 x 13 or bigger. You might have a few leftover shells. I did. Recipe recommends doing this in two batches. I don't) Stuff shells with 1 heaping tablespoon of filling each. Pack into dish. Cover with foil. You could freeze this for later at this point if you want.
– Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dot shells with butter. Feel your arteries slam shut. Bake, covered, for 40 minutes. Uncover, and raise oven temp to 450 degrees. Bake until golden and bubbly, about 15 minutes more. Heat a cup or two of tomato sauce; serve with shells. Garnish with parmesan cheese, if you're into garnishes.
I served this without the extra sauce. The radicchio completely lost its bitterness and the flavor of the dish was warm, delicate, and homey. I think the extra sauce would mask this.
Et voilá, mes amis! C'est magnifique! Merveilleuse! Fantastique! And really, really good.
Now for pictures. Itty Bitty ones from my iPhone. Don't ask why: