Improv Italian

I’m always challenging my boyfriend to try new foods, and I really appreciate how game he is when I try to feed him cauliflower crust pizza or his first raw sushi. He says he’s liked everything I’ve ever gotten him to try, but last night, we both agreed we needed a little comfort food.

Or how he put it: “Cheesy, greasy, bad-for-me Italian food.”

Hungry yet?

I decided earlier in the day that we’d make pasta shells, but I hadn’t quite thought it all the way through, and before I knew it I was standing in the produce section of a Central Market without consulting a single cooking blog.

Good thing this ain’t my first rodeo.

ImagePasta shells pre-oven… Success!

Let me give you a lesson in improv Italian. A recipe for an Italian dish is kind of like a game of mad-libs. Watch this.

1. Boil the [pasta].
2. [Combining action] the [Italian meat], [fresh herb] [cooked veggie] (optional), and [Italian cheese] (optional at this step).
3. [Combining action] the [pasta] with the [combined other ingredients].
4. Top with [sauce] and [cheese] (required here).
5. (Optional) [heating method] until cheese is melted.

And presto! You’ve got an Italian meal. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself. I guess if it’s ravioli then you’d wait to cook the pasta, but really, it’s all the same. Apply this Italian cooking theory and you’re guaranteed to impress, every time, or your money back.

Off-the-cuff Conchiglioni Ripieni

12-oz box of pasta shells (although we only ended up using about half of them, so… make it 6-oz.)
3/4 lb spicy Italian sausage (links or just the meat, either way works)
16 oz ricotta cheese
3/4 cup chopped mushrooms
fresh basil
grated parmesan
at least 1 jar pasta sauce (or make it yourself!)

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Start the pasta water boiling, and cook the pasta accordingly. Tip: turn off the heat when the pasta is still a bit chewy, it keeps cooking in the boiling water.
2. Brown the sausage. If you have links, cook those and chop them up after they’re done.
3. Sauteé the mushrooms and a bit of minced garlic in the leftover sausage juice (or olive oil, if you prefer, but the sausage juice mushrooms were delish — boyfriend’s idea!)
4. In a medium-sized bowl, mix ricotta cheese, chopped basil, mushrooms, chopped or crumbled sausage, a handful of parmesan and a pinch of salt.
5. Pour half of your pasta sauce in the bottom of a baking dish. Fill pasta shells with about a spoonful of the ricotta cheese mixture in each and place in the baking dish.
6. Top the filled shells with the rest of the sauce and another handful of the parmesan. Yum!
7. Bake for about 30 min (or until warm and melty).

Finished pasta shells placed unceremoniously on a plate with mini tomato-basil bruschetta.  And my hand. So we’re not photographers, okay?

And to top off the Italian theme, I made coffee this morning in a Moka, and it was thick and yummy and fabulous. I may still be drinking it at 2:30 in the afternoon.

Hey, it’s Saturday. I’m allowed.

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