Ina Garten’s Vanilla Bean Brioche Bread Pudding

Our Father’s Day celebration involved grilling and baked goods. We started the day with a mini-bundt cake version of Alton Brown’s Strawberry Muffins. There may have been some leftover Strawberry Crumb Cake on the side too. My husband loves strawberry season. 🙂

Because he has been excited about experimenting with his meat grinder, my husband wanted to make his own burger blend for dinner. (This time, he used a combination of beef brisket and chuck steak. It was a success!) I made curly fries, corn on the cob, and a green salad with ice box buttermilk dressing to serve on the side. I think that he really wanted me to have time to focus on this incredible dessert!

This bread pudding recipe was adapted from Cook Like a Pro: Recipes and Tips for Home Cooks- a Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten. The “pro tip” in this recipe was to use melted vanilla bean ice cream as a shortcut crème anglaise to drizzle over the top. It was rich, indulgent, and absolutely fabulous.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

  • 8 to 9 ounces brioche (I used 6 slices of Trader Joe’s brioche)
  • 1 1/2 extra-large whole eggs (I divide an egg in half by weight)
  • 4 extra-large egg yolks
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 T granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean
  • confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
  • 7 ounces (1/2 pint) vanilla bean ice cream, melted, for serving (I used Häagen-Dazs)
  1. Place the ice cream in a pitcher in the refrigerator to melt.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection, with a rack in the center.
  3. Cut six 3/4-inch slices of brioche. (Trader Joe’s brioche is pre-sliced.) Keep 3 1/2 slices whole. Trim the crusts from the remaining 2 1/2 slices; cut into 1-inch dice.
  4. In a single layer, spread the whole slices and cut pieces of brioche on a rimmed sheet pan. Place in the preheated oven for 5 minutes, to lightly toast the bread.
  5. Meanwhile, make the custard. Whisk the whole eggs, egg yolks, half-and-half, milk, granulated sugar, vanilla, and vanilla bean seeds in a large bowl, preferably with a spout. Set aside.
  6. Line a 2-inch deep baking dish with the whole slices of brioche, cutting them to fit in a single layer. (I used a 9 1/2-inch round, ceramic baking dish. An 8×8-inch square dish, or equivalent, could be substituted.)
  7. Distribute the diced brioche on top.
  8. Pour the custard over the top of the bread and press down lightly so that the bread is soaked with custard. Set aside for 10 minutes.
  9. Place the baking dish in a roasting pan large enough to allow the baking dish to sit flat. (I used a large roasting pan with handles. I also placed a silicone mat underneath the baking dish to prevent it from moving within the pan.)
  10. Pour about 1 inch of the hottest tap water into the roasting pan, being sure not to get any water into the custard.
  11. Cover the roasting pan tightly with aluminum foil, tenting the foil to make sure that it doesn’t touch the custard. Cut a few holes in the foil to allow steam to escape.
  12. Bake for 45 minutes.
  13. Uncover and continue to bake for an additional 30 to 35 minutes, until browned and set. Test by inserting a knife in the center- it should come out clean.
  14. Dust with confectioners’ sugar. Serve warm, drizzled with melted ice cream.

Classic Macaroni & Cheese with Sourdough Bread Crumb Topping

This cheesy pasta lived up to its title as “classic.” The combination of cheeses gave it the perfect velvety texture. We ate it as part of my husband’s birthday feast this year. Everyone loved it!

The recipe was adapted from The New Best Recipe All-New Edition from the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated. The original recipe also notes that the recipe can be halved and baked in an 8-inch square baking dish. Great.

Yield: one 9×13-inch casserole: Serves 6 to 8 as a main course or 10 to 12 as a side dish

For the Bread Crumb Topping:

  • 6 slices (about 6 ounces) good-quality white sandwich bread, torn into rough pieces (I used Trader Joe’s Sourdough sandwich bread)
  • 3 T cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

For the Casserole:

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • salt
  • 5 T unsalted butter
  • 6 T all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 5 cups milk (whole, low-fat, or skim okay)(I used 3 cups whole and 2 cups low-fat)
  • 8 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 cups)
  • 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)

To Prepare the Bread Crumbs:

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the bread and butter until the crumbs are no larger than 1/8-inch, about 10 to 15 pulses. Set aside.

To Prepare the Pasta & Cheese:

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the broiler.
  2. Place a 9×13-inch broiler safe baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet. (I also covered the enameled handles of my baking dish with foil to protect them from the heat of the broiler.)
  3. Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Add the pasta and 1 tablespoon of salt and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until the pasta is tender (NOT al dente).
  4. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water (for reheating leftovers). Drain in a colander and set aside.
  5. In the now-empty Dutch oven, heat the butter over medium-high heat until foaming.
  6. Add the flour, mustard, and cayenne; whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until the mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. (I used a flat whisk.)
  7. Whisking constantly, gradually add the the milk; bring the mixture to a boil. The mixture must reach a full boil to fully thicken.
  8. After the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes.
  9. Remove from the heat and whisk in the grated cheeses and 1 teaspoon of coarse salt. Whisk until the cheeses are completely melted.
  10. Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is steaming and heated through, about 5 to 6 minutes.
  11. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish and sprinkle the top evenly with the bread crumbs.
  12. Broil until the crumbs are deep golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes, rotating the pan if necessary for even browning. (I set my oven to Broil+Max @500 degrees.) Cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

Poblano, Black Bean & Cheese Enchiladas

Recently, my friend gave me beautiful cast iron baking dishes. I knew that I wanted to make enchiladas in them right away! Our Cinco de Mayo feast was the perfect occasion. Our meal also included chips and guacamole, of course. 😉

The recipe for these hearty, vegetarian enchiladas was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Ali Slagle. I modified the proportions and method. We ate them garnished with sour cream, red onion, avocado, and cilantro with refried beans and rice on the side. We topped off our festive meal with a Tres Leches Cake. Perfect.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped (I used a food processor)
  • 1 poblano chile, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled and minced (I used a food processor)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 (15-ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sour cream, plus more for serving, optional
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups coarsely grated mild Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
  • 10 to 12 (6-inch) soft corn or flour tortillas (I used Trader Joe’s corn & wheat tortillas)
  • fresh cilantro leaves and stems, for serving
  • sliced avocado, for serving, optional
  • diced white or red onion, for serving, optional
  • rice and refried beans, for serving, optional
  1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. (I used the convection setting.)
  2. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high. Add the onions and chopped poblano chile; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and charred in spots, 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the cumin and minced garlic; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.
  4. Transfer half the vegetable mixture to a blender; add the tomatoes, chili powder and chipotle chile. (I used a Vitamix.) Blend until very smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (If your blender isn’t particularly strong and the sauce looks more like a chunky purée, add 1/4 cup sour cream and blend again until smooth.)(I omitted the sour cream in the sauce.)
  5. Add the black beans and 1/2 cup cheese to the remaining vegetables in the skillet and stir to combine. Some canned beans are already salted, so taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
  6. Place the tortillas in a tortilla warmer (or on a plate) covered with a damp paper towel. Cover and microwave for 1 minute, or until warm and pliable.
  7. If using individual dishes, spread a few spoonfuls of sauce over the bottom of each dish. (I used 5 dishes.) Alternatively, pour enough enchilada sauce to lightly coat the base of a medium casserole dish or a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Spread it to cover the bottom of the dish(es).
  8. Line up the filling, tortillas and baking dish in a row. Place a heaping 1/4 cup of the bean mixture in the center of each tortilla. Roll up the tortilla and place in the casserole dish(es), seam-side down. Repeat with the remaining tortillas. (I placed 2 enchiladas per individual dish.)
  9. Spoon or pour the remaining sauce over the enchiladas.
  10. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 to 1 1/2 cups of cheese, to taste. (I used 1/2 cup cheese per dish.)
  11. Place the baking dish(es) on a rimmed baking sheet and tent with foil. Bake for 10 minutes.
  12. Remove foil and continue to bake until the cheese has melted and has browned in spots, about 10 additional minutes.
  13. Top with sour cream, avocado slices, diced onion, and cilantro. Serve immediately.

Note: The sauce and the black bean mixture (without the cheese) can be made up to 5 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The spice level in the sauce can be easily modified by adjusting the amount of chili powder.

Maqlubeh (Palestinian Upside-Down Chicken & Rice)

I have a Maqlubeh (Maqluba) recipe collection. :/ I have always wanted to make this beautiful, multi-layered, flavor-packed dish but was hesitant because it is a bit of a project. This streamlined version inspired me to finally try it. I even made it on a weeknight! (admittedly a little ambitious…)

This recipe was adapted from 177milkstreet.com, contributed by Courtney Hill. I substituted boneless, skinless chicken thighs for bone-in. I also used unsalted butter and chicken stock.

When presenting the finished dish, the platter is gently shaken to create cracks in the rice. The cracks reveal the aromas as well as the chicken and vegetables inside. I absolutely loved it- and drove my family crazy talking about it all evening. 😉 Although it could be served as a complete meal on its own, I served it with roasted asparagus and broccoli as well. It is classically served with a tomato, cucumber and yogurt salad. Fantastic.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

  • 2 cups white Basmati rice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless, chicken thighs (about 6) or bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 3), trimmed
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/3 cup raw slivered almonds
  • 8 ounces cauliflower florets, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 8 to 10 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground allspice
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 to 3/4 medium eggplant (about 8 to 12 ounces), sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • 1 quart (4 cups) chicken stock
  1. In a large bowl, combine the rice and 2 tablespoons of coarse salt. Add water to cover by 1 inch, then set aside.
  2. Prepare a lidded pot that measures 9½ to 11 inches in diameter and 4 to 6 inches deep. (I used a large enameled cast iron Dutch oven.) Cut 2 rounds of kitchen parchment the size of the pot. (I cut the rounds slightly oversized so that it had a little bit of a lip.)
  3. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper.
  4. Set the pot over medium and heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until shimmering.
  5. Add the chicken “skin side” down and cook until browned, about 7 minutes for boneless or 10 minutes for bone-in. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
  6. Remove the pot from heat. Place 1 parchment round on the bottom, then turn to coat it with fat.
  7. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil to the parchment-lined pot, then sprinkle evenly with the almonds.
  8. Drain the rice in a fine mesh strainer, then rinse under cool running water and drain again.
  9. Scatter 1 cup of the rice in a thin, even layer over the almonds.
  10. In a medium bowl, mix together the remaining rice with the cauliflower, garlic, melted butter, cumin, allspice, turmeric, nutmeg and 1 3/4 teaspoons each salt and pepper. Reserve 1/2 cup of this mixture, then distribute the remainder in an even layer in the pot.
  11. Place the chicken and accumulated juices (if using boneless, skinless chicken) in the pot, slightly nestling the pieces into the rice-cauliflower layer; discard any accumulated juices (if using bone-in chicken).
  12. Shingle the eggplant slices over the chicken in an even layer. Sprinkle with the reserved 1/2 cup rice-cauliflower mixture.
  13. Pour the stock into the pot (it will not fully cover the eggplant), then bring to a boil over medium-high. Set the second parchment round over the food, the cover the pot with the lid. Cook for 5 minutes, reduce to low and cook, undisturbed, for 35 minutes.
  14. Remove the pot from the heat, uncover and let stand for 15 minutes.
  15. Remove the parchment (and accumulated liquid on the top), then invert a serving platter onto the pot. Holding the platter against the pot, carefully invert the two together; leave the pot overturned on the platter and let rest for about 10 minutes. Slowly lift off the pot and, if needed, remove and discard the parchment.
  16. Gently shake the platter to create cracks in the top of the finished dish.

Spinach Manicotti

I have shared my love for manicotti in the past– stemming from wonderful memories of enjoying it with my college roommate’s large Italian family on Easter Sunday.

I have made many versions of spinach manicotti, usually filling store-bought manicotti noodles. Using no-boil lasagna noodles instead was a great “less-hassle” shortcut. They were also chosen to mimic the texture of fresh pasta. It was absolutely true! I will never buy manicotti noodles again. 😉

This recipe was adapted from America’s Test Kitchen. I replaced one cup of ricotta cheese with an equivalent amount of chopped, steamed spinach seasoned with freshly grated nutmeg. I also used whole milk ricotta instead of part-skim, part-skim mozzarella instead of whole milk mozzarella, coarse salt instead of table salt, and modified the method. Fabulous.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

For the Tomato Sauce:

  • 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes with juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, optional
  • coarse salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

For the Filling & Pasta:

  • 6 oz baby spinach
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or to taste
  • 2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese (can substitute part-skim ricotta)
  • 4 ounces (about 2 cups) grated Parmesan cheese, divided (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  • 8 ounces (about 2 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese (I used part-skim mozzarella)
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 16 no-boil lasagna noodles (I used Trader Joe’s)
  1. Steam the baby spinach until wilted. (I did this on the stove top.)
  2. Let the spinach cool slightly, then use a potato ricer to remove excess liquid. Coarsely chop. (You should have about 1 cup.) Season with salt and freshly ground nutmeg. Set aside.
  3. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees, preferably on convection.
  4. Make the Sauce: Pulse 1 can tomatoes with their juice in food processor until coarsely chopped, 3 or 4 pulses. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with remaining can tomatoes.
  5. Heat oil, garlic, and pepper flakes (if using) in large saucepan over medium heat until fragrant but not brown, 1 to 2 minutes.
  6. Stir in tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes.
  7. Stir in basil; adjust seasoning with salt. Set aside.
  8. Make the Filling: Combine the chopped spinach, ricotta, 1 cup Parmesan, mozzarella, eggs, salt, pepper, and herbs in medium bowl; set aside.
  9. To Assemble: Pour 1 inch boiling water into 13 by 9-inch broiler-safe baking dish, then add noodles one at a time. (I used a pyrex dish.) Let noodles soak until pliable, about 5 to 6 minutes, separating noodles with tip of sharp knife to prevent sticking.
  10. Remove noodles from water and place in single layer on clean kitchen towels. Do not use paper towels because the noodles may stick. (I used flour sack towels.)
  11. If using the same dish to bake the manicotti, drain the water and dry the dish. (I used a ceramic baking dish to bake the manicotti instead of using the pyrex dish.)
  12. Place the preferred baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet. Spread bottom of baking dish evenly with 1 1/2 cups sauce.
  13. Using a large cookie scoop or a soup spoon, spread 3 to 4 tablespoons of the spinach-cheese filling mixture evenly onto bottom three-quarters of each noodle (with short side facing you), leaving top quarter of noodle exposed.
  14. Roll into tube shape and arrange in baking dish seam side down.
  15. Top evenly with remaining sauce, making certain that pasta is completely covered. (It seems like a lot of liquid but it’s necessary for the no-boil noodles to cook properly.)
  16. To Bake: Cover manicotti with aluminum foil. Bake until bubbling, about 40 minutes, then remove foil.
  17. Remove baking dish, adjust oven rack to uppermost position (about 6 inches from heating element).
  18. Sprinkle manicotti evenly with remaining 1 cup Parmesan. Return to the oven on the adjusted oven rack; bake for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling.
  19. Set the oven to broil.
  20. Broil until cheese is lightly brown or spotty brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Cool 15 minutes, then serve.

Note: The manicotti can be prepared through step 15, covered with a sheet of parchment paper, wrapped in aluminum foil, and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month. (If frozen, thaw the manicotti in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.) To bake, remove the parchment, replace the aluminum foil, and increase baking time to 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Marcella Hazan’s Eggplant Parmesan

WOW. This was amazing. We are battling over the leftovers. 😉

This version of this classic Italian casserole is from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. I added garlic and basil to the tomato sauce and modified the proportions. I found it interesting that breading the eggplant is an Americanized method used to prepare this dish. Hazan only coats the salted and dried eggplant slices with flour prior to frying them.

We ate it with pasta on the side but crusty bread would also be wonderful. Cheesy and delicious.

Yield: Serves 6

  • 3 to 3 1/2 pounds eggplant (I used 4 small organic eggplants)
  • coarse salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced, optional
  • 28 oz can canned whole imported Italian plum tomatoes with juice (such as San Marzano), crushed by hand or coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 to 1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, preferably buffalo-milk mozzarella (I used cow-milk mozzarella)
  • vegetable oil, for frying (I used canola oil)
  • all-purpose flour spread on a plate or glass pie dish
  • 8 to 10 fresh basil leaves plus 1 sprig for the sauce plus chopped leaves for garnish
  • an oven-to-table baking dish, approximately 11 inches by 7 inches or its equivalent (I used a 2-quart baking dish)
  • unsalted butter or cooking oil spray for the pan
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • crusty bread or pasta, for serving, optional (I used 1/2 pound penne)
  1. Cut the green, spiky top off each eggplant and peel it. Cut each eggplant lengthwise into slices about 3/8-inch thick.
  2. Stand one layer of slices upright against the inside of a pasta colander and sprinkle with salt.
  3. Stand another layer of slices against it, sprinkle with salt, and repeat the procedure until you have salted all the eggplant you are working with. Place a deep dish under the colander or place the colander in a large bowl to collect the drippings and let the eggplant steep under salt for 30 minutes or more. (This process is important in order to remove excess moisture from the eggplant.)
  4. Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a pot, turn the heat on to medium, add sliced garlic, if using. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Add tomatoes (with juice), basil sprig, and salt; stir, and cooking the tomatoes down until thickened, about 15 minutes.
  6. While the sauce is cooking, thinly slice the mozzarella.
  7. Before cooking, pat each slice of eggplant thoroughly dry with paper towels. (I placed all of the eggplant slices in 3 layers (one for each layer of casserole) between slices of paper towels to dry.)
  8. In a large frying pan, pour enough oil into it to come 1 to 1 1/2 inches up the sides, and turn the heat up to medium-high to high. (I used 45 to 50 oz of canola oil in a 12-inch sauté pan.)
  9. Working a few slices at a time, with the eggplant thoroughly dried with paper towels, dredge the slices in the flour, coating them on both sides. (Do only a few slices at a time at the moment you are ready to fry them, otherwise the flour coating will become soggy.)
  10. After coating with flour, fry the eggplant, by slipping as many slices into the pan as will fit loosely without overlapping. Cook to a golden brown color on one side, then turn them and do the other side. Do not turn them more than once. When both sides are done, use a slotted spoon, tongs, or spatula to transfer them to a cooling rack placed over a paper towel-lined rimmed baking sheet to drain or to a platter lined with paper towels.
  11. Repeat the procedure until all the eggplant is done. If you find the oil becoming too hot, reduce the heat slightly, but do not add more oil to the pan.
  12. Preheat the oven to 400°F. (I set my oven to convection.)
  13. Wash the basil leaves, and tear each leaf into two or more pieces.
  14. Smear the bottom and sides of the baking dish with butter or coat with cooking oil spray.
  15. Put in enough fried eggplant slices to line the bottom of the dish (about 1/3)(the original recipe recommends placing them in a single layer but I used overlapped slices).
  16. Spread some of the cooked tomato over the first layer of eggplant slices (about 1/3), cover with a layer of mozzarella (about 1/2), sprinkle liberally with grated Parmesan (about 1/3), distribute a few pieces of basil over it (about 1/2), and top with another layer of fried eggplant (another 1/3).
  17. Repeat the procedure in step 16, ending with a layer of eggplant on top. (3 layers of eggplant with sauce and 2 layers of cheese with basil)
  18. Sprinkle the top layer of eggplant slices with remaining sauce topped with remaining grated Parmesan (about 1/3), and place the dish in the upper third of the preheated oven.
  19. Occasionally eggplant Parmesan throws off more liquid as it bakes than you want in the pan. Check after it has been in the oven for 20 minutes by pressing down the layered eggplant with the back of a spoon, and draw off any excess liquid you may find.
  20. Cook for another 10 to 15 minutes, and after taking it out allow it to settle for several minutes before bringing it to the table.
  21. Garnish with additional fresh basil, as desired.

Note: Eggplant Parmesan tastes best shortly after it has been made, but if you must, you can complete it from several hours to 2 or 3 days in advance. Refrigerate under plastic wrap when cool. Warm it up on the top-most rack of a preheated 400°F oven.

Vegetarian Skillet Stuffed Shells

This one-pan, stovetop recipe turns cheesy stuffed pasta into a weeknight dinner. It was a perfect crowd-pleasing dish to serve on a chilly evening. Jarred marinara is used as a shortcut- enhanced with buttery sautéed garlic and red pepper flakes. Great.

This recipe was adapted from epicurious.com, contributed by Anna Stockwell. I modified the proportions and method, and used dried oregano. I recommend eating it with crusty bread or garlic bread to mop up the sauce.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 20 jumbo pasta shells (about 6 to 6.5 oz)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 to 10 oz crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth (I used Pinot Grigio)
  • 5 oz baby spinach
  • 6 to 9 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 24 to 28 oz jarred marinara sauce (I used 28 oz Rao’s Marinara)
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups (15 to 16 oz) whole-milk ricotta
  • 3 oz finely grated Parmesan (about 1 cup), plus more for serving (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  • 2 T finely chopped fresh oregano or 2 tsp dried oregano
  • fresh parsley or oregano, chopped, for garnish, optional
  • crusty bread or garlic bread for serving, optional
  1. Cook shells in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until very al dente, about 9 minutes; drain. Run under cold water to stop the cooking; drain again. (I cooked 22 shells just to be safe but only used 20.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet (with a lid) over medium-high. (I used a large, wide enameled cast iron pan.)
  3. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they release juices, then are dry again and nicely browned, 5–10 minutes; season with black pepper and 1/2 tsp salt.
  4. Reduce heat to medium, add wine, and cook, stirring, until reduced by half, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  5. Add spinach, stir, cover, and cook until beginning to wilt, 1–2 minutes.
  6. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until spinach is completely wilted and most of the liquid is evaporated, 2–4 minutes more. Transfer mushroom mixture to a large bowl; reserve skillet.
  7. Add ricotta, Parmesan, 2 T fresh oregano or 2 tsp dried oregano, and remaining 1/2 tsp salt to mushroom mixture and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning, to taste.
  8. Spoon about 2 T ricotta mixture into each shell. The shell should be filled to capacity but not overstuffed. (I used a cookie scoop to ration the filling.)
  9. Cook garlic and butter in reserved skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until garlic is fragrant and beginning to brown, 2–3 minutes.
  10. Add marinara sauce and red pepper flakes and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until warmed through, 6–8 minutes.
  11. Nestle stuffed shells into hot sauce in skillet.
  12. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until shells are warmed through, 5–6 minutes.
  13. Remove from heat and let sit 5 minutes.
  14. Sprinkle with Parmesan and chopped fresh parsley or oregano. Serve with crusty bread or garlic bread, as desired.

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