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

Smothered Pork Medallions

The Ultimate Comfort Food.

Sure, I’m supposed to be dieting for my sisters wedding, but sometimes you just need gravy. I picked this recipe up from one of our best friends on a weekend trip. After clearing my plate, I hovered over his pressure cooker and ate hunks of pork chop directly from the pot, it’s that damn good. I love my instant pot, and still use it for this recipe when I have thick-cut pork chops, but I also like eating the freshly browned pork tenderloin when pulled from the pan to “rest” (in my mouth) before I make gravy.

This recipe is for those nights when you need something warm and homey. The ranch seasoning picks the gravy up and makes it something truly special. It’s also easy af and nearly impossible to mess up, which makes it a perfect recipe. We generally eat it over rice, but it’s equally as good with pasta or mashed potatoes.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pork tenderloins, sliced and smashed flat with your hand
  • Seasoned salt, Lawry’s mix is good
  • Garlic pepper
  • 1 tsp Better than Bouillon, beef flavor
  • 1-1/2 cup water
  • 1 packet ranch dressing mix
  • 1 packet brown gravy mix
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup

Season the tenderloin slices with seasoned salt and garlic pepper. Brown the slices over medium-medium high in a little oil and set aside to rest. This is going to take multiple batches, so don’t feel bad about having an adult bev while you snack on the first set of freshly browned bits of pork heaven.

The first batch is for snacking.

In the same pork-browned pan, stir together 1-1/2 cups of water, the spoonful of Better than Bouillon, and the two packet mixes. Stir vigorously for a few seconds before turning the heat down to simmer and let the gravy start to thicken. Add the cream of chicken soup and stir until melted. Dump the pork back into the pan and make sure every piece is covered in gravy.

We’ve tried this on most carbs and it’s good on everything. You could spoon this gravy over a steamed package of that sad frozen cauliflower rice and it would be amazing. This stuff is comfort food at its finest.

Comfort food is one of those things I love asking people about because it varies so widely across cultures and homes. I have a podcast in mind for the future and I think that comfort food and the foods you grew up on will be what it revolves around. Home foods are so personal and certain things can really only be cooked by one’s mother. I still fail at recreating my MIL’s chicken and rice and I’ve watched her cook it in person. B says I need more pepper, but I suppose we’ll see next time.

– Lin

Pork Tenderloin & Brussels Sprout Salad

And now for something lighter.

As I slaved over these beautifully sliced sprouts and pork tenderloin, my husband wandered into the kitchen in search of an apple cider and paused.

“Uh, wtf is this Lin?”

A meat and potato lover’s nightmare.

When I informed my husband that we needed something lighter because we have eaten heavy cooking all week he informed me that, “Maybe that’s acceptable in some houses, but I’m not eating Brussels sprouts.”

Well, the joke is on him because he ate every bite on his plate and went back for more. You can trick your man into eating sprouts salad with enough dried cherries and pine nuts mixed in. Now, let’s grab a glass of our wine du jour (Bonanza cab) and get slicing.

Ingredients for the salad:

  • 1 lb. fresh Brussels sprouts
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, extra virgin is best for dressing
  • 2 lemons
  • 2 handfuls of pine nuts, toast them if you want to be fancy
  • 1 handful of dried cherries,
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, don’t get the pre-shredded trash, get a block and do it yourself
  • S&P

Ingredients for Pork Tenderloin:

  • 2 Pork tenderloins (around 1 pound each), with the silver skin removed
  • S&P
  • 1 tsp Italian Seasoning
  • Onion powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Olive oil

Let’s get our hands dirty.

Preheat your oven to 500 with your sheet pan inside. Once you’ve cleaned up your tenderloins and tossed that nasty silver skin out, rub them down with some olive oil (a tbsp should set you straight). Season with S&P, a couple of shakes of garlic and onion powders, and your Italian seasoning.

Pour another glass of wine while the oven finishes preheating. Pull your pan and flop your tenderloins onto it leaving at least a couple of inches between them.

Set your timer for 10 minutes.

Stop, salad time. Wash your Brussels sprouts and pat them dry. Trim the ends and then cut them in half lengthwise. If you have a mandoline you can shave them, but I can’t stand cleaning my mandoline so I just slice the sprouts finely until I get annoyed and then slice them haphazardly.

Grab a mixing bowl and squeeze your lemons into it. Whisk in your olive oil and don’t panic if it doesn’t look like a perfect vinaigrette, it doesn’t actually matter. Mix your remaining ingredients in and S&P to taste. Let the salad rest at room temperature while your tenderloins finish up.

I really like to flip the tenderloins at around 10 minutes. Keep them cooking until an instant read thermometer hits 145 degrees (around 8 more minutes). That’s right, tell your grandma to take her trichinosis talk and shove it in her apron pocket.

When your tenderloins are a perfect 145 degrees, pull them and let them rest for a few minutes before slicing thinly.

If your tenderloin doesn’t look like this, you’ve probably ruined it.

Give your salad a last toss and pretend you’re capable of plating (the three glasses of wine help tbh). Mound up some salad and artfully lay some sliced pork on top. Smugly watch your spouse and kids stuff their faces.

Cheers, Lin