Artichoke-Stuffed Baked Shells

Stuffed baked pasta is probably not the first thing that comes to mind with the humid, hot weather outside. But mind you, I made this on Sunday night when it was gross and rainy, and I couldn’t break my promise after mentioning it on Monday. So on this summer-like day, I bring you Artichoke-Stuffed Baked Shells from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.

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If you can’t tell from the pictures, this pasta was so stinking good, I would happily eat this in winter, spring, summer or fall. Even with the artichoke-cheese filling and the béchamel cream sauce, the dish managed to feel surprisingly light – not like some sit-in-your-stomach-all-night pastas.

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I received The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook as a birthday gift, and I have to say, it’s already my favorite cookbook. Not only are the pictures insanely good, but nearly the entire book is already flagged with recipes I want to try (a.k.a. all of them). When I saw the recipe for these Artichoke-Stuffed Baked Shells, I instantly thought, “It’s like Artichoke pizza in pasta form! Genius!”; so of course, this had to be the recipe I would try first.

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This is not the dish to make if you’re pressed for time or starving to eat something right away. There was quite a bit of prep involved (thawing the artichokes, chopping the onion, garlic, etc.) and various parts that required some advance planning and good timing (making the filling, making the sauce, assembling the dish, then baking the whole thing). But for a Sunday night dinner with some extra time on your hands, this pasta could not have been more comforting and soothing, regardless of the weather outside.

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Artichoke-Stuffed Baked Shells from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

serves 4

Ingredients:

For the shells

18 jumbo pasta shells

3 tbsp unsalted butter

1-2 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 large yellow onion, diced

12 oz frozen artichoke hearts, thawed & patted dry

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2 egg yolks

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1/2 tsp salt

freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce

4 tbsp unsalted butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups whole milk

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1/2 tsp salt

freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped for garnish (optional)

1. Cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the shells according to package directions. Drain and toss with a teaspoon or two of olive oil to keep from sticking. Set aside.

2. Make the filling. Melt the butter in a large sauce pot until nutty and golden brown, stirring occasionally to keep the solids moving. Once nutty, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and onions; cook until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Add artichoke hearts and cook until softened a bit, about 5 minutes. Add wine and cook until it disappears. Remove pot from the heat and let cool a few minutes.

3. Using a food processor, blender or immersion blender, puree the artichoke mixture with both cheeses, egg yolks, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Puree until well-chopped, but still a little chunky. Set aside.

4. Make the sauce. Melt the butter in a medium sauce pot over medium-high heat. Once melted, add the flour and whisk until smooth and a light brown color, creating a roux. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Once all the milk is incorporated, add the garlic and bring the sauce to a boil, stirring frequently. Once boiling, it will start to thicken. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 2-3 minutes before adding ricotta, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Set aside.

5. Assemble the pasta. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour 2 cups of the sauce into the bottom of a 9×13 glass baking dish. Scoop 1-2 tablespoons of the filling into each shell and line up each shell in the pan, nesting in the sauce. Dollop a hearty spoonful of sauce over each shell. Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes, then remove foil and bake another 15 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.

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