Jeremy Halpern is a friend Daniel has known since grade school, who has some good ideas about food. He gave Daniel this recipe years ago, written on a tiny sheet of paper, which we have carefully kept ever since. These cheese-stuffed pasta shells have been our Christmas dinner every year since 1997. Once we’d tried them, we never again considered roasting any sort of beast for our holiday feast–these shells are just that good! And this recipe is quicker to bake and a little easier to assemble than lasagna.
So here is Jeremy’s exact recipe, transcribed verbatim, and then some commentary on what we’ve learned over the years:
- Ricotta cheese (3 lb)
- Jumbo shells (12 oz)
- Marinara or Pasta sauce (40 oz)
- 1 egg
- 1 cup Parmasean cheese (loosely packed)
- handful chopped parsley
- tsp. salt, red (cayenne) pepper
- 2 Tblsp. pepper, garlic, oregano
- white pepper
Preheat oven 400 degrees. Mix Ricotta, egg, Parmasean, spices in bowl. Put shells in boiling water. Cook until done (12-15 min.) Pour 1/4 of sauce on bottom of large, sided cookie sheet. Put heaping tblspoon of cheese mix in each shell. Arrange shells on cookie sheet. Pour rest of sauce on top. Bake until all sauce bubbles. Eat.
It’s important to use fresh parsley and freshly grated cheese in this recipe. You can use Romano cheese instead of Parmesan, but you have to buy a wedge of it and grate it yourself; that canned stuff just won’t do.
Be generous with the parsley.
Make or buy a fairly plain, mild marinara sauce because the cheese is so flavorful.
Adding just a few drops of cooking oil to the water helps to prevent the shells from sticking to themselves or each other. Drain them as soon as they’re done cooking, start stuffing them as soon as they are cool enough to touch, and keep stuffing until they’re all done–if you wait, they get soggy and starchy and sticky.
Confused about the amounts of spices? We were, too, but guessed that he meant
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 2 Tbsp. black pepper
- 2 Tbsp. white pepper
- 2 Tbsp. garlic powder or granulated garlic
- 2 Tbsp. dried oregano
That’s a lot of pepper, even for a recipe this size, and pepper intensifies with cooking. If you use all that, you’ll get a cheese filling that is extremely flavorful and creates a distinct warm sensation under your breastbone. Daniel and I both like that, but when we’ve had other people sharing our Christmas dinner, we’ve cut back on the peppers, and it’s still delicious. When Jeremy was asked for his permission to publish this recipe, he clarified that it’s supposed to be “two tablespoons of total peppers.” We have used as little as 1/2 tsp. cayenne, 1 tsp. black, 1 tsp. white to make this for my dad, who dislikes pepper, and he liked it, and we still liked it, too! So the pepper quantities are variable, but it’s important to use all three varieties for best flavor.
This is one recipe in which I think garlic powder actually works better than fresh garlic, because it mixes into the cheese more evenly. If you do use fresh garlic, use about 4 cloves, crushed or minced.
UPDATE IN 2014: We are planning yet another Christmas feast of Stuffed Shells, but this year my brother is on a gluten-free diet, so we’re going to try stuffing some peppers with the cheese mixture and baking them in a separate pan for him….
Last year, my mom discovered that if the store is sold out of ricotta cheese, you can buy an equal amount of small-curd cottage cheese, freeze it, and then thaw it, and the consistency will be so similar to ricotta that it is indistinguishable in this recipe.
Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more delicious holiday recipes!