Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pantry Style Jumbo Cheese Shells - A Meatless Meal

A grocery store freezer case  reminds me of jewelry being displayed behind glass. The multi-hued bags and boxes of prepared, frozen meals keep me motionless as I scan the shelves looking for a new taste gem to purchase. Last month at Aldi's, a coral bag of jumbo, stuffed pasta shells caught my attention. I read the label,"...filled with a creamy blend of ricotta, Romano cheese, and Italian seasoning." Next I looked at the net weight - 20 ozs AND the price was less than $3. Honestly, I just couldn't pass up this bargain. The coral bag of pasta was in my cart and a new meatless meal was going to make an appearance on the Bonham menu!

Weekends are my time to cook from scratch and dazzle my husband with my kitchen skills. However, my desire to cook from scratch wanes a little around Wednesday evening, so my new menu item made its debut on our table midweek. After removing the frozen bag of shells from the freezer, I read the cooking instructions for conventional oven preparation.

The pasta directions were simple and straightforward.
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Pour your favorite sauce into the bottom of an oven-safe pan.
  3. Place frozen Stuffed Shells in pan and cover lightly with more sauce.
  4. Cover pan loosely with aluminum foil and place in oven.
  5. Bake for 50-60 minutes until cheese is slightly firm and the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. Remove dish, let stand for 3 minutes and serve.
Now, do you remember that I said my desire to cook wanes a little midweek?  That is true, but I do prepare my "almost homemade" pasta sauce. This is my basic recipe.

Sallee's Pantry Style Pasta Sauce

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes with 1/3 can of water added
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp minced, dried onions
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. freshly ground, rainbow peppercorns
1 tsp. firmly packed, brown sugar
1  4 oz. can mushroom stems and pieces (optional)
6-8 whole black olives, sliced (optional)
salt to taste

I put all the ingredients in the bottom of  a glass 8"x 11.5"x 2" baking dish and stirred until the dry seasonings were mixed well. Then I followed #1-4 of the above directions *I adjusted the cooking time to 40 minutes and let the dish stand for 10 minutes. The cheese was slightly firm when I cut my first shell open, so I'm assuming that it reached 165 degrees.

Yield: About 4 servings of two shells each

The shells are a nice change of pace and require a minimum of effort to prepare after a long day at work. Bill said he would like to eat them "once in awhile". Once in awhile translates as once a month. A lettuce salad and/or fruit salad go nicely with this meal. Happy cooking!

*The first time I cooked these shells, I followed the bag directions exactly. In my oven, the pasta ended up overcooked so I adjusted the recipe the second time. We are now very happy with the end product.