Ricotta-and-Fontina-Stuffed Shells with Fennel and Radicchio

Recipe adapted from Food and Wine magazine, October 2012

Note: This recipe is only as good as the quality of ingredients used. Be a wise cook.


For the Marinara--(Recipe by Terri)

The recipe as given in Food and Wine magazine states that a jar of your favorite marinara can be used in place of the homemade marinara. Additionally, this homemade marinara will make extra marinara for serving at the table for those guests who would like more marinara with their meal. Trust me, they will.

  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 can (28 ounces) whole San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 can (12 ounces) good quality tomato sauce
  • 1 can (6 ounces) good quality tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream

For the Filling--(Recipe by Food and Wine magazine)

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 pounds fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 medium heads of radicchio (10 ounces total), chopped
  • 12 ounces jumbo pasta shells
  • 2 cups fresh ricotta cheese
  • 6 ounces (weight) Italian Fontina cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 large eggs, beaten

 

Directions

 

*Preheat the oven to 375-degrees F.

 

For the Marinara

  1. In a large, deep skillet heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, then lower the heat to medium low. Cook, stirring as needed, until onions are translucent and golden. If ingredients begin to stick, add a little water, stir, and continue to cook until onions are translucent.
  2. Add the whole tomatoes, with juice. Break up tomatoes well with a wooden spoon or other tomato breaker-upper of your choice. :)
  3. Stir in the tomato sauce, tomato paste, basil, oregano, and sugar. If sauce appears too thick, add about 3/4 cup water. I simply put some water in the tomato can to rinse down the sides and added that to the pan. The sauce will reduce during cooking, but don't let it get too thick. 
  4. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Cover and cook over medium low or low heat for about 20-30 minutes, stirring as needed. Taste periodically to check for seasonings.
  5. Turn off the heat and stir in the cream. Cover and keep warm until ready to use.

For the Filling

  1. In a large, deep skillet, melt the butter in the oil.  Add the fennel and onion. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Add water as needed to keep the vegetables from scorching.
  2. Add the radicchio and cook until very soft, about 10 minutes. Again, add water as needed.
  3. If cooking liquid is present when the vegetables are done, drain cooking liquid from vegetables. Put vegetable in a large mixing bowl and set aside to cool.
  4. Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente. Do not over-cook.
  5. Drain. Cool under running water, then gently pat shells dry. I did not need to pat the shells dry. I simply turned each one in a colander so that the water would drain out by itself. It's what worked for me.
  6. Fold the ricotta, 1 cup of the Fontina, and the parsley into the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Stir in the eggs AFTER the filling has been seasoned to taste.

Finishing

  1. Pour 1 1/2 cups of the marinara sauce into a 9- x 13-inch baking dish. Stuff each shell with a slightly rounded tablespoon of the filling. Nestle the shells as close together as possible on top of the sauce in the baking dish.
  2. Drizzle 1 cup of the remaining sauce on top. Because I had extra sauce, so I used more than one cup--which is probably why my photos don't look quite as nice as the ones from the magazine. I'm pretty sure that's the reason. Certainly photography skills, perfect lighting, and a great camera had absolutely nothing to do with why Food and Wine's pics were so amazing.
  3. Sprinkle the remaining Fontina over the sauce and pasta.
  4. Bake for about 40 minutes, until golden. Let rest for 15 minutes.
  5. Serve the remaining sauce, warm, on the side.
NOTE: The flavor of the left-over sauce the next day will knock your socks off.
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