Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Tex-Mex Stuffed Shells
Sometimes I think my kitchen could double as an international foods emporium. On any given day, you are more likely to find Thai fish sauce or Indian curry powder than potato chips or hamburger patties. Despite a childhood spent in a suburb teeming with numerous chain restaurants but few authentic ethnic-food options, I am now something of an international foods magnet. I am drawn to trying new foods, spices, flavors, restaurants, and home recipes. In recent years I have developed a deep and abiding love of Japanese, Thai, Indian, Turkish, Greek, and Moroccan cuisines… just to name a few.
And while Mexican and Italian cuisines may not be the most exotic (since you can typically find them in most areas, suburbs and small towns included), they are two of the favorites in this newlywed household, at least when it comes to home cooking. Between me being a pasta addict (seriously, I need help) and Stan loving south of the border flavors, we prepare a lot of Italian and Mexican dishes, some more authentic than others.
This dish is a fusion of our favorites – traditional Mexican spices and flavors stuffed into warm, al dente pasta. When I came across the recipe at elly says opa! I knew it was one we had to try. While it clearly not an authentic Italian or Mexican recipe, it brings together many of the most delicious aspects of the two cuisines. Stan could not stop raving about the subtly spiced sauce, the rich but not heavy filling, and the overall combination of flavors. I agreed with him wholeheartedly, while also appreciating the recipe’s ease of preparation and the fact that it made more than enough for several meals’ worth of leftovers.
Tex-Mex Stuffed Shells
Adapted from elly says opa!
1 box (12 oz.) box large pasta shells
1 large (29 oz) can tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 T. canola oil (or other flavorless vegetable oil)
1 medium onion, diced
1 green pepper, finely chopped
1 lb. lean ground beef
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup water
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. brown sugar
2 oz. cream cheese
1-2 cups Mexican cheese blend (or Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, etc.)
Optional garnish: sliced green onions
** For vegetarians, I think this recipe would work well with black beans in place of the ground beef. For those of you who do not eat beef, I think ground turkey would be a great substitution. If you try it with one of these (or any other) changes, let me know how you liked it! **
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cook pasta according to package directions, until just shy of al dente. Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside. (You want the shells to still be chewy and slightly undercooked since they will continue cooking in the oven.)
In a medium saucepan, combine all of the sauce ingredients (tomato sauce through bay leaf). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the filling.
In a large skillet, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add the onion and green pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften.
Add the ground beef and garlic. Cook the ground beef until browned, breaking it up with a spatula or wooden spoon as it cooks. Drain off any accumulated fat, if necessary.
Add the water, cayenne pepper, cumin, chili powder, oregano, and brown sugar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer until most of the water has been absorbed. Taste again, and add additional salt and pepper if necessary.
Allow the beef mixture to cool slightly, then add the cream cheese. Stir to combine.
To assemble the stuffed shells, spread 2/3 cup of the sauce over the bottom of a large baking dish. (I ended up using one full 9x13 pan and most of a 9x9 pan.) Stuff each shell with a heaping tablespoon of the filling and place in the baking dish.
Pour the remaining sauce over the stuffed shells and then sprinkle with as much cheese as you like.
Cover the baking dish with foil and cook for 20 minutes. Remove the foil, and cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until the shells are heated through and the cheese is melted and beginning to brown.
Serve hot, topped with sliced green onions, if desired.
Serves 6 to 8.