There’s something irresistibly heartwarming about the way shell pasta hugs whatever’s nearby, whether it’s the peas that fit perfectly into mini shells or the ricotta and sauce that you use to inflate a batch of jumbo shells before baking. For these slightly spicy stuffed shells, we use a filling of ricotta flavored with roasted poblano chile peppers and shredded mozzarella, but you can swap in any of the other flavored ricottas if you prefer. The filling gets piped into the shells out of a resealable plastic bag, and the shell shape helps it stay put even as the filing softens and melts in the oven. This recipe uses up a whole box of jumbo shells, distributed across two baking dishes. You can eat one tonight and save the other in the freezer for later, but you can also easily cut this recipe in half.
- Using kitchen shears, cut the tomatoes in the can until finely chopped. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering, about 2 minutes.
- Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring gently, until the paste darkens slightly, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add the canned tomatoes and their juices, the sugar, oregano, bay leaf, and 2 cups water. Break up any large pieces of tomato with a spoon. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper and bring to a boil.
- Cover the saucepan partially, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the sauce is thick and reduced to about 4 ½ cups, 35 to 40 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Discard the bay leaf. The sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.
- Add the following to 2 pounds of ricotta (or halve and add to one pound): ¾ cup chopped roasted peppers and ¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or poblanos and grated cotija cheese), 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt, and ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the center. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the shells and cook, gently stirring occasionally, until just al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain and rinse with cool water.
- Meanwhile, combine the roasted poblano pepper ricotta with half of the mozzarella. Transfer the filling to a resealable plastic bag and press to seal. Using scissors, snip a corner of the bag so the opening is ½ inch wide.
- Hold 1 shell in your hand and squeeze gently to widen the opening. With your other hand, hold the bag, position the tip in the shell, and squeeze gently to fill, taking care not to overfill. Set the shells on a work surface and repeat with the remaining pasta and filling. Add any remaining cheese mixture to any less-filled shells, so they are all more or less evenly filled.
- Spoon ¾ cup of the sauce into each of two medium 1 1/2- to 2-quart glass or ceramic baking dishes. Arrange the stuffed shells in the dishes, open side up, and top each dish with 1 ½ cups sauce. Sprinkle the Pecorino Romano and remaining mozzarella on top and cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake until lightly bubbling and browned in spots, 15 to 20 minutes. Let the shells sit for 15 minutes before serving.
Reprinted with permission from Lasagna, copyright © 2019 by Anna Hezel and the Editors of TASTE. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photographs copyright © 2019 by Dylan + Jeni