One of the more pedestrian comfort foods. I was making this for a friend, and realized that even though this is not a dish I make frequently (maybe once every 8 years or so), I have strong opinions about it.
My strong opinion: Why so little flavor?
So let’s start with the filling.
Let’s start with the eggs in the filling. I never notice them, they don’t seem to provide much structural support, and they make your cooking/reheating slightly more complex than just – assemble and heat until hot enough you’d be happy serving it. So I don’t use them. Your mileage may vary.
But you should totally have other things in there. Other green (but not watery) things! For a pint of ricotta, there should be at least 2 scallions – sliced thinly all the way up including the green parts (but not any dried tips, let’s be real). There should be a huge amount of parsley (a fluffy pile of minced leaves that looks to be about the same volume as half your amount of ricotta). You have a mix of dried italian herbs? Throw a bunch of that in the filling. You have fresh basil? Mince and throw in maybe as much as a fluffy pile of 1/4 the volume of your container (I don’t know – it depends how flavorful your plant is – go by what smells good to you). Mix that together. Taste. Add salt. Maybe add pepper. Mix again.
Some people add spinach or chard to the recipe. Either have a delicate hand with the fresh leaves, OR cook the leaves first, press very dry, cut up finely, fluff with your hands, and stir in thoroughly making sure you don’t have clumps.
So now you have your filling.
Let’s fix the pasta – take any old box of dried pasta shells. Boil the water, pick out just the intact shells to throw in (a few more than you’ll actually need because a couple usually tear while cooking), and cook for the package directions. Most dried pasta has a range of times depending on how firm you want it, but jumbo shells boxes usually just have the time for ‘pretty darn firm’ because they know you aren’t eating them straight away – people only make them for stuffed shells. And then once they are cooked and drained, rinse them in cold water (so they stay firm – and in this case getting the surface starch off will benefit you by having them less likely to stick together and tear)
Now you get your casserole and your sauce. I just use jarred sauce. You can have your own sauce opinions.
Spoon a little bit of the sauce into the empty casserole dish and spread around.
Grab a shell, stuff it with the ricotta (you get to balance your ricotta/shell ratio based on your preferences and relative amounts of materials), and lay them out in a single layer on the pan. Again, you get to choose how orderly your layout might be.
Once you have all the shells in the casserole dish that you want to have (this works best if you have chosen a dish sized to have the shells fit fairly firmly together inside, but still all in a single layer). And pour more sauce over it. Because I am not a fan of crunchy pasta (I know people who are, so not judging), I make sure to spread the sauce to get all of the pasta surfaces at least a bit wet and red even if they aren’t buried fully in the pasta sauce.
If you have it on hand and are feeling the gooey cheese, sprinkle mozzarella on top.
(If you have a casserole dish with a lid, you can totally freeze this right now)
Bake at any temperature (250F-375F) until the dish is as hot as is aesthetically pleasing to you. I go until the cheese on top is bubbling and maybe browning in a couple spots. (If frozen, make sure it’s warm throughout before caring about the condition of the topping – that might mean thawing ahead or not using the highest heat you possibly can)
Serve and eat. Enjoy!