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This Place Is Fancy

Last weekend we put the baby in a carrier thing that smooshes him against Scott’s chest and makes him (the baby) fall asleep, and we went to a wine tasting.  They were doing tiny pours so it should have been a pretty uneventful outing, but I spent last year pregnant and not drinking.  After a few thimblefuls of Sancerre I was feeling gooooood.  And by the time we got to the Malbecs I was looking deep into Scott’s eyes and going “but, it’s like, what do we want to be when we grow up, you know?” and he was like JESUS, SOMEONE GET THIS WOMAN A CHEESE PLATE WITH EXTRA BREAD.

I wish I could say the cheese plate helped matters, but in fact things degenerated considerably.  The waiter who brought it over had an impossibly soft voice.  I understood there was brie on there and a hard cheese called kickapoo or kickapoop, but when he got to the meats his voice dropped to what can only be described as a subwhisper and we had the following exchange:

WAITER:     Thiiiisis oonenesss elelflsfl  salalslmi

ME:     What?

WAITER:     Elelflsfl  salalslmi

ME:     Scott, help.

SCOTT:     I think he said this one here is elf salami.

ME:     [opening my eyes wide] WHAT?

SCOTT:     I knew this place was fancy, but. . . wow.

ME:     Wait, WHAT?

SCOTT:     Now I’m starting to worry about how much this cheese and meat plate costs.

It went on like this for a while.  Names were called and threats were made, and eventually both Scott and the waiter demanded to speak with the manager, who checked with the chef, who determined that the item in question was elk salami. 


This brings me to today’s recipe, which calls for no meat and only the most basic cheeses.

shells 1aIt’s a recipe for stuffed shells based on Lidia Basitanich’s version.

shells 2aI first went to one of Lidia’s restaurants, Becco, fifteen years ago when I waited tables in the Theater District in Manhattan.  Her restaurant served heaps of homemade pasta swimming in rich sauces.  My restaurant served overcooked scallops and questionable oysters.  We were on the same street.  Mine was gone within a year, and hers is still doing a hopping business.shells 3aThese shells freeze nicely, and they don’t take long to make if you use store-bought sauce like I do.

shells 4aI also add spinach to the ricotta mixture.  I figure I could use the extra nutrients since I’ll be laying off salami for a while.

Stuffed Shells {Download & Print Recipe}
Adapted from a recipe by Lidia Bastianich


2 24-oz. jars of your favorite marinara sauce (my favorite budget one is Emeril’s)

1 12-oz. box jumbo pasta shells

2 8-oz. packages shredded mozzarella, divided

2 c. grated Parmesan, divided

2 c. ricotta

1 15-oz. can peas

1 10-oz. box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed of its water

1 egg


I use a 13″ x 9″ pan and a 9″ x 9″ pan for this.

Put a large pot of water up to boil.  If you want perfect stuffed shells, boil 30 or more shells, but if you don’t mind that some of them will rip, you only need to boil about 24. (You’ll probably only use about 24 shells, but if you only want perfect shells, you need to boil some extras.  For the record, I can’t really tell the difference between a perfect shell and a ripped shell once they’re stuffed and smothered in sauce and baked.)  Cook the shells until they’re tender and drain carefully–if you just dump them into a colander, they’ll probably rip.  Rinse the shells in the colander under cool water and stuff them soon after they’re drained to prevent them from sticking together.

While you’re waiting for the shells to boil, stir together half of the mozzarella, half of the Parmesan, and all of the ricotta, peas and spinach and the egg in a large bowl.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Spread a 1/2″ layer of tomato sauce in the bottoms of the pans.  Using your hands or a tablespoon, stuff the shells and lay them in rows.  They can be touching, but I typically do 4 across.  When you’ve used up all the ricotta mixture, cover the shells in tomato sauce.  I usually go through the first jar and have to dip into the second jar for this.  You can dribble the sauce on top of the shells and then use a spoon to scoop sauce from the pan and sort of paint the shells with sauce so that they don’t dry out.

Combine the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan, and sprinkle the mixture on top of the shells.  Tent the pans with foil and bake for 25-30 minutes, until bubbly all over, and then remove the foil and bake for another 5 minutes, until the cheese is totally melted and just about to turn golden brown.  (Once you remove the foil, the cheese cooks quickly on top, so keep an eye on it.)  Serve, or let cool and freeze.


thunder in blanketThe poor girl is so tired from getting up whenever the baby gets up in the middle of the night that she’s been sleeping through breakfast!

19 Comments Post a comment
  1. Haha aw you poor mum, but thanks for the recipe, looks sooooo tasty!

    April 23, 2015
  2. First of all welcome back…I just realized you did another post a couple of days back…but this is first one I am seeing…welcome back and many congratulations! Best wishes and a BUG virtual hug for the little one! Glad you started things with a bang…wine tasting seems just the thing after no drinking for like months!! Love the recipe…will try to try and make it over the weekend!

    April 23, 2015
    • Hello hello! Thank you for the kind words. I love being back!

      April 24, 2015
  3. Elf salami. It’s the latest thing. Oh, that just made my afternoon.
    I’m glad you guys got out for a bit, at any rate. And the shells look delicious.

    April 23, 2015
  4. If you go to a few more tastings, Scott might have to be carrying two babies next year.

    April 23, 2015
  5. jenny_o #

    Elk? Erk …

    Poor doggy! It’s exhausting having to look after everything in the household at all hours 🙂

    And, those shells look SO good.

    April 23, 2015
    • Yeah, she is a MESS. She’s like the equivalent of a new parent who hasn’t showered and is living on coffee. She falls asleep in strange places and looks at her toys like “huh?”

      April 23, 2015
  6. Donna Gold #

    Your family will always laugh. There is no better life. You are doing it right, Katherine!

    April 23, 2015
    • Aw, you’re the best, Donna.

      April 23, 2015
  7. Janie #

    This is too funny. I took a sip (ONE) of beer and my whole body reminded me I had not had any alcohol in a year. It was embarrassing and my poor dog has just now (after almost 4 months) returned to our bedroom. She’s been a trooper, but I sure do feel a little guilty about how drastically our lives have changed. We went from 1 hour hikes pre-pregnancy to 30 minute strolls every other day with a baby. It doesn’t help matters that my baby absolutely dislikes sunlight at the moment. By the way, those shells look amazing!

    April 23, 2015
    • Janie, mine hates sunlight too! He sneezes when it hits his face. Every time. Scott does this too, and apparently it’s an actual thing. (I refused to believe it for a long time.) He also does not like the stroller very much, which may be somewhat related.

      Thunder is still in the bed but she will NOT play with me outside. She plays with Scott but not with me. She’s mad, I think.

      April 23, 2015
  8. Elf is remarkably tough.

    Just sayin’…

    April 24, 2015
  9. Monica #

    Baby-watching is exhausting work for a responsible pooch.

    April 24, 2015
  10. Poor Thunder! Her needs sum dat kickapoop elf sa’ami. Yesssss, Precioussssss.

    April 25, 2015
  11. While elf does sound good, this recipe looks even better!

    April 26, 2015
  12. Yes! That looks like the most delicious dinner ever. Making it tomorrow…or as soon as I can get to the store for shells, ricotta, spinach, and….well pretty much all of the ingredients. I’m so glad having an adorable tiny baby hasn’t put a halt on your posts because they’re my weekly happy place.

    April 27, 2015
  13. Putting homemade elf salami on my Christmas Eve menu for this year since it’s an all-appetizer meal each year. Plus, these shells should make an appearance well before that. Your story reminds me of a Seinfeld episode when Kramer was dating a “low talker.” It’s probably only funny when it’s not happening to you. 🙂

    April 28, 2015

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