Sausage and Ricotta Stuffed Shells

I’m obsessed with Italian food and it’s a problem for my lactose-intolerant household.

We’ve been re-watching The Sopranos, which means it’s all Italian all the time. It also means I walk around saying things like, “Think, Christophaaah, think!” and, “What am I, a toxic pershon or shumthin?” My husband isn’t loving the Italian food theme (lactose intolerance), but he’ll survive until I finish Season 6B this weekend and move onto Six Feet Under. Actually, that’s probably not going to help at all, because the first thing I’ll make will be stroganoff in honor of Nikolai the florist.

I mixed up the Italian Sausage for this dish myself, because fennel is the worst and I hate it. I will forever more be hand seasoning Italian Sausage, because it was perfect. No licorice flavor ruining every bite and the brown sugar really shone through in the mix.

Ingredients:

  • 3 handfuls of fresh spinach
  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausage (see below for my mix!)
  • 3 tbsp olive oul
  • 1 lb ricotta
  • 12 oz. jumbo shells (cook them 3 minutes less than the package says)
  • 2 cups marinara, let’s be honest, store bought is fine for this.

Béchamel;:

  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 cups whole milk, we use Lactaid.
  • 1/2 cup grated parm
  • Pinch of nutmeg, cayenne, and salt

Bring your oil up over medium heat and add your sausage. Cook, breaking up sausage with a heatproof rubber spatula for 5–7 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until most of the liquid from the spinach evaporates. Let cool for a few minutes and then add ricotta and salt to taste. Set aside.

Melt butter in a pan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook, whisking occasionally, until mixture smells nutty, 2-3 minutes. Stir in milk, then increase heat to medium-high. Whisking constantly, bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook just until thick, about 8–10 minutes. Add Parmesan and whisk until melted, then whisk in cayenne and nutmeg; season with salt. Cover béchamel and keep warm.

I like to do my noodles while I cook the béchamel, so the béchamel doesn’t have time to get thick and icky before you’re ready to stuff the shells.

Preheat oven to 375°. Spread half of the béchamel into a 9×13 casserole dish. To stuff the shells, spoon a heaping tablespoonful of sausage filling into each shell and fit next to each other to create rows. Pour remaining béchamel over shells, then spoon on marinara sauce. Top with more Parmesan.

Bake for 35 minutes.

Sweet Italian Sausage: To enjoy your own fennel-free sweet Italian sausage, mix the following ingredients together and chill until ready to use.

  • 1.5 lbs ground pork
  • 1.5 tbsps red wine vinegar
  • 1.5 tsps salt
  • 1.5 tsps black pepper
  • 2 tbsps Italian seasoning
  • 2 tsps dried parsley
  • 1.5 tsps onion powder
  • 1.5 tsps garlic powder
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1.5 tbsps brown sugar

The sausage was glorious and I’m planning on picking up a meat grinder soon to grind my own pork to make some link sausages. Adventures in drunken sausage-making coming to a blog near you.

-Lin

Chicken Riggies

Hot cherry peppers are bae.

Chicken Riggies. If you grew up in the south, you’ve probably never heard of it. It’s alternatively called Utica Riggies and every Utica/Rome, New York chef lays claim to it. The best part about Chicken Riggies is a toss up between the hot cherry peppers and the 1-1/2 cups of white wine you dump into it.

I know what you’re thinking. I said I don’t do white wine, but this is tried and true and it is chicken, so we’ll do what we must. Besides, if you use that super salty and shitty Holland House cooking wine you won’t be tempted to drink it. You’ll have to crack open a nice bottle of red to hold you over.

This stuff was good. So good in fact the Biggin was heard saying, “yeah,” in response to me asking if it was any good.

Chicken Marinade:

  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 tbsps olive oil (plus more for sauté)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced. (Just use the jarred, go on, it’s really fine.)
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 2 lbs chicken tenderloins, cubed

Sauce Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 hot cherry peppers, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 can tomato paste (6 oz.)
  • 28 oz. can peeled San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, the good stuff, chopped.
  • 16 oz. rigatoni pasta

A lot of ingredients and a lot of chopping, but let’s be honest, that means time for a lot of wine. Rip out the tendons and dice the chicken up. Add all of the marinade ingredients and chicken to a ziplock bag and toss it in the fridge for at least an hour.

Chop your veg while you wait for the chicken to soak up that goodness. When it’s time, drain the marinade off of the chicken and sauté in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot until there isn’t any pink left. Remove to a plate and melt the butter in the same pot.

Sauté the veg over medium-low heat for ten minutes. Add the cup of white wine and bring to a boil. Scrape in the tomato paste, stir until combined, and add the canned tomatoes. Use the back of your spoon to crush the tomatoes a bit. Cook down on a simmer for around ten minutes.

While your sauce cooks down, boil the rigatoni. Cook the pasta the least amount of time recommended to keep it firm. Drain and keep covered when al dente.

When the sauce has thickened up some, add the cream cheese and heavy cream. Once the cream cheese incorporates, it’s Parmesan time. Give the Parmesan plenty of time to melt before adding the chicken and pasta back to the pot.

I crowded the pan with the chicken. Can’t even take my own advice.

This dish was so dang good and the recipe makes enough to feed an army. The kids thought it was good enough to eat (yeah…) and that’s a win in my book. Here’s to hoping it reheats well in the oven tomorrow with some mozzarella and parm on top!

Cheers!

-Lin

Cajun Chicken Alfredo

It’s pasta week.

I tend to do this thing where I cook similar dishes all week. Oh, we had a pasta dish on Monday? Hope you all liked it, because we’re going to have one on Wednesday and Friday as well.

Two of my favorite things to eat are caramelized onions and mushrooms, and although my poor Husband hates onions with a passion, I use every opportunity to work them into a dish. They really do make everything taste better.

I like my caramelized onions diced instead of sliced. They almost disappear in your dish and your family won’t complain, much.

I usually say go with whatever pasta you have on hand, but in this case you do want something short and fat to pick up all of that 5,000 calorie cream sauce we are making. Bow ties are cute and I like how the middle of the pasta stays extra chewy.

Do not substitute frozen spinach for the fresh. It’s a huge mistake and will absolutely ruin your sauce, unless you want everything in your bowl to taste like stewed spinach. Frozen spinach is full of water and you should really only use it for dips after squeezing any remaining life out of it after defrosting it in a sad lump in a colander.

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil, it doesn’t have to be extra virgin if we’re just going to destroy it with heat.
  • 1/2 of a yellow onion, diced.
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 chicken breasts, slice them against the grain, we’re going to destroy them while we cook, so don’t worry about how they look.
  • 8 oz white mushrooms, sliced, if they are big and the stems look tough pull them out.
  • 6 oz fresh spinach, I pull the stems if they are too thick and crunchy looking.
  • S&P
  • 1 tbsp Cajun seasoning, I really like Penzey’s blend because it’s well balanced.
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 6 oz of Parmesan cheese. We aren’t animals, so I expect you to buy a block of actual parm. You don’t have to grate it, but I do expect you to chop it up into matchsticks.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium high and season up the sliced chicken with the Cajun seasoning and a couple of shakes of salt and black pepper. Rub the seasoning in to the chicken and make sure it’s all evenly coated. Cook your chicken in batches making sure not to overcrowd, and use your spoon or tongs to just destroy it. We call this torn up chicken because you’re half shredding it while cooking and rubbing the pulled apart pieces into the seasoning and oil. Drain on a paper towel.

In the same pot, add another tablespoon of olive oil and lower your heat to medium. Add your diced onions and give them a minute to sizzle and then stir in 1/4 tsp of salt and the balsamic vinegar. You’re going to cook your onions over medium low for around 30 minutes. If they start burning lower the heat and if they dry out add a drizzle of oil.

I’m lazy, so I just push my onions up onto the side of the pot while I sauté my mushrooms. Remember how I feel about overcrowding the pan? I’m much more likely to forgive you for overcrowding the chicken than I am for ruining mushrooms.

Sauté the mushrooms for about 5 minutes and then toss your spinach in to wilt. If you’re me and you’re three glasses in, you’ve 100% forgotten to start your pasta. Cook and drain your pasta.

Add your chicken back to your pot and stir in the heavy cream. As soon as it starts to bubble, turn your heat down to medium low and add you cheese. Stir steadily while your cheese melts or you’ll end up with a big wad of ingredients floating in cream. Taste for S&P again at this point.

Stir in your pasta and dish it up. If you “take out the green stuff,” your Biggin won’t complain. He didn’t notice the onions, so I would say I won this round.

-Lin