Wednesday, 11 March 2009

"Eat Down the Fridge" Stuffed Shells with Arrabbiata Sauce

I wasn't quite sure if I should call this blog the above name or "dirty every bowl and pan that you have in your kitchen" as that's pretty much how it turned out. And part of the repertoire of pans that I dirtied in this process, quite to my surprise, was the pressure cooker, as I was certain this was going to be a non-pressure cooker blog.

So in case you missed it, this week is Eat Down the Fridge Week. Unlike my last blog, I'm back in my primary home so it was like a whole new endeavour with all new ingredients needing to be used up. Fortunately (or unfortunately if you don't like to dirty a lot of dishes) I had the makings for a pretty good meal. I had a slab of leftover pancetta and a partial container of ricotta. I also had a package of dried pasta baskets (not quite shells, but close) that I acquired in August at the Feast of St. Anthony in Boston's Northend, that I've been wondering for sometime what I would do with. This was my big break!

I recalled seeing a rerun on the Food Network with Chef Giada De Laurentiis where she was making some sort of stuffed shells. So that's where I started, and sure enough, I found a recipe by her that could utilize my three rogue ingredients -Stuffed Shells with Arrabbiata Sauce.

Jumping right into the recipe, I got to work chopping, then sautéing, my pancetta . I also started the water for par-cooking my pasta shells. With two pots going on the cooktop, this is when I realized , that in my excitement to use up the above mentioned ingredients, I failed to read through the entire recipe and check to make sure I had everything on hand. I had two key missing ingredients:
I'm totally embarrassed to admit that I did not have a single clove of garlic on hand again! In a scramble to improvise I came up with some shallots to fill in. The recipe calls for 5 cups of marinara sauce. Not only did I not have it on hand, the recipe provided called for 1 hour of simmering - not the best option for a quick dinner. Enter the pressure cooker.

So now I've got pancetta with red pepper flakes and minced shallots on the go on one burner, a pot of boiling pasta on the go on another burner, a pressure cooker sautéing some ingredients for the marinara sauce on yet another, a few cutting boards soiled from their handywork, and a food processor doing additional chopping, mixing and grating to help along the whole thing. Not to mention a bowl for mixing the ricotta stuffing. It was kitchen mayhem.

Once you've got the pasta par-boiled, the cheese stuffing prepared, and the sauce ready you assemble. You stuff the shells with the cheese mixture, assemble in a pan and pour sauce over.I won't go into the details of the recipe as you can find them here on the Food Network site.
But I will tell you a bit about the pressure cooker sauce. I sautéed some carrots, shallot (wannabe garlic) and onions in olive oil until translucent. I then added finely chopped canned tomatoes. It turns out that the pancetta I had been preparing was actually for the marinara sauce (the ingredient that must transform the sauce from a mere marinara to arrabbiata sauce from the recipe title I guess) so instead of adding the marinara sauce to the pancetta as indicated in the recipe, I instead added the pancetta to the pressure cooker marinara. Clever, no? I then secured the pressure cooker lid, turned it to high pressure, and let cook for 15 minutes with additional cooking time as it depressurized on its own. Voila.

The end recipe was yummy. It's pretty hard to go wrong with cheese, tomato sauce, and pasta, but this was more posh than your average cheesy pasta (but not too posh).

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