Right around lunchtime at the office today, I started thinking about the Monthly Recipe Challenge Forum over on BakeSpace. We've been slacking off the past few months but are trying to get back into the swing of things. There are no prizes or titles involved. It's just a bunch of us picking a recipe or ingredient to see what everyone comes up with for new inspiration, etc. This month, it was proposed that we come up with a homemade pasta dish. I have never made pasta, so this will be another first for me.
Living in the Mohawk Valley in Central New York, when you say pasta, two things come to mind ... Chicken Riggies and Hats. When I first moved here, I thought it was very strange to see Hats on a menu. I finally got around to asking someone and was informed it was a pasta shape. Strangely, everywhere I have seen it served, it has actually been Orecchiette, which are Little Ears. Hats would be Cappelletti, which look kinda like Tortellini.
I was planning to try the Hats for my first attempt at pasta, but then I remembered that there is an Armenian dish I have been wanting to try. Since that involves pasta, I figure I'll do that instead and kill two birds with one stone. Once that was decided, my mind wandered to the half a bag of Kale in the fridge. I made Kale Chips a few weeks ago, then bought more and made another batch last week, so I'm kinda over the Kale Chips for a while. After last week's veggie wars experimenting with various other chips, I don't think I'll even be eating potato chips for a while. So, what else might I do with the Kale? Hmmmm...
Stuffed shells is what came to me. I've made my share of lasagnas, red, white, spinach, rolls, etc., but I've never made stuffed shells or manicotti for some reason. I didn't feel like using chicken, ground beef, or sausage, so I chose to pair the kale with panchetta instead. They ended up turning out great! To back that up, I managed to injure myself at the supermarket on my way home. I was walking down an aisle and suddenly had the odd sensation that my right food went flat. Sounds weird, I know. The next instant, I felt a POP in the back of my leg. I had to hobble the rest of the way through the store. I can bend my foot any which way, but for whatever reason, if I put any weight on it, I can't bend it to step off on that foot. After managing to get through the shopping and drive myself home, I had to have an elf bring in the bags. With all the ouches and shuffling around the kitchen, I managed to STILL really love these, so if that's not a rousing endorsement, I don't know what is. By then, I should have just wanted to chuck it.
Because this is cooking rather than baking, you can certainly change the proportions to suit your own taste, add other herbs, etc. I wanted to keep it simple so the kale would be the star, and it didn't disappoint.
1 t olive oil
2 oz diced Panchetta
2 t jarred minced garlic with red peppers
1 med onion, diced
About 8 c washed, de-stemmed kale, torn into small pieces
1 sm container Ricotta
2-3 T grated Parmesan
1/2 c shredded Mozzarella
Salt and Pepper
10-12 large pasta shells
Sorry, I forgot to look at how many ounces the Ricotta was. I think it was 15, but I'm not dragging myself back upstairs to the kitchen to check. I wasn't actually planning to use the whole carton since I was only making a small batch, but it fell in the bowl when I tipped it to scoop some out, so I said to heck with it and used the whole thing.
While you're working on the filling, go ahead and put on a pot of water, and when it comes to a boil, add a little salt (not much because the Panchetta and Parmesan are salty too) and the shells, and cook to al dente.
Because the Panchetta has fat on it, I didn't use much oil. I heated just 1t and tossed in the Panchetta. I didn't want it to crisp. I just wanted to render the fat down so it would distribute the flavor throughout the filling, so I pretty quickly added in the garlic, then the onion.
As soon as the onion started to sweat, I added some black pepper and the Kale. When the Kale was almost cooked down, I pulled the pan off the heat and covered it to let the residual heat and steam cook the Kale the rest of the way.
While you're waiting for the Kale to finish, go ahead and pour a little sauce in the bottom of your casserole or baking dish so the shells don't dry out and stick while baking.
When the Kale has finished steaming, stir that mixture into the Ricotta mixture and spoon or pipe the filling into your shells, setting them in your sauced-up vessel as you go along.
Bake at 350 for 30-40" until the Parmesan lightly browns and the sauce begins to bubble.