Sunday, May 15, 2011

Artichoke Heart Stuffed Shells with Lemon Ricotta Sauce

When I went back to work full-time a little over a month ago, I had no energy to cook.  For the first few weeks, we ate takeout, frozen meals, cereal, and the most basic homemade food possible.  Stan was okay with it, but I was less than thrilled with the lackluster options gracing our table.  Fortunately, after a few weeks, I got my energy and my cooking mojo back.  I’m still all about easy, quick-cooking meals during the week, but on the weekends, I like to take the time to have a little fun in the kitchen. 

Last weekend, my culinary project was these Artichoke Heart Stuffed Shells with Lemon Ricotta Sauce.  This recipe is a great one for the weekend because it has a few more steps than I imagine most of us have time for during the week – you have to cook the pasta, make the filling, and make the sauce.  However, the steps are easy, and the end result is so worth the effort.  Tender pasta shells are stuffed with a flavorful mixture of artichoke hearts, onions and two kinds of cheese.  They are bathed in a light and creamy white sauce made with ricotta cheese and fresh lemon.  The final product is incredibly delicious – and is a much lighter take on stuffed shells than the more traditional red sauce-smothered, cheese-laden variety. 

To be honest with you, I was afraid these shells would be a little too light for Stan.  They are meatless and full of (in his opinion) girly ingredients.  However, much to my surprise, Stan loved these stuffed shells.  Seriously, I had to take the pan and hide it in the kitchen so he wouldn’t eat the entire batch in one night.  And he actually pouted a little.  Over girly food.  If that doesn’t convince you to try this recipe, I don’t know what will.

One Year Ago: Cashew Chicken

Artichoke Heart Stuffed Shells with Lemon Ricotta Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appétit

For the Shells:
12 oz. box jumbo pasta shells
3 T. unsalted butter
2 T. olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped small
12 oz. frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and patted dry
1/2 cup Romano cheese, finely grated
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated
2 large egg yolks
1 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the Sauce:
4 T. unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup ricotta cheese, regular or part-skim
2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 T. flat-leaf parsley or fresh basil leaves, chopped, for garnish (optional)

For the Shells:
Cook the pasta according to package directions.  Drain and gently toss with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.  Set aside.

In a 12-inch skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.  Let the butter cook until it has turned brown and smells nutty, stirring occasionally.  Add the remaining tablespoon and the onions.  Cook the onions until they are lightly brown and caramelized, about 7 minutes.  Add the artichoke hearts and cook another 5 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool.

Add the artichokes and onions to a food processor.  Add the Romano, Parmiggiano, egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.  Process until the mixture is well chopped but still has a little texture.

For the Sauce:
Wipe out the pan you used for the artichokes.  Add the butter and melt over medium-high heat.  When the butter has melted, add the flour.  Whisk the flour and butter together until smooth.  Add the milk, a little bit at a time, whisking constantly.  Once all of the milk is added, stir in the minced garlic and bring the sauce to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 3 minutes.  Stir in the ricotta, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

To Assemble the Shells:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.  Pour 2 cups of the sauce into the bottom of the baking dish.  Shake the pan to disburse the sauce evenly.

Scoop 1 tablespoon of the artichoke mixture into each shell.  Place the stuffed shells into the baking dish.  (You will have a few leftover shells.)

Drizzle the remaining sauce over the shells.

Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes.  Sprinkle the shells with parsley or basil, if using.  Serve immediately.

Serves 4.



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