Mexican Stuffed Shells

I decided to try something a little different for Taco Tuesday, combining my love for Mexican and Italian food. Seriously, what is not to love about this concept? Rich spicy flavor in the meat and sauce. Stuffed into pasta. Let me say that again for affect, stuffed INTO pasta. The spicy gooyness of the meat, stuffed into the delicate pasta shell. This truly seems like a dish that was invented for me! And I welcomed it with open arms!

Ingredients:

1 lb ground beef (or any meat of your choosing, can even go with something similar to soyrizo for vegetarians)
4 Tbs Morton & Basset Mexican Blend seasoning (this is truly my Go-To Mexican flavor. Do not waste your time with taco seasoning packets.)
1/2 cup cream cheese (I used plain, but you could play around with this and use flavored cream cheese, such as sun-dried tomato, garlic and herb, maybe even a garden vegetable)
14-16 jumbo pasta shells
1 1/2 cup salsa (I always use fresh whenever I can and the deli section of my local market helps me achieve that)
1 cup taco sauce (this will be a smooth, tomato based sauce with varying degrees of heat, found in the Mexican section)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
*Additional toppings such as sliced green onions, tomatoes, lettuce, olives, and / or sour cream (this is the chance to get creative, even add jalapeños!)

Preparation:

Start large pot of water to boil.  In frying pan, brown meat, add the Mexican Blend seasoning and 1 ¹⁄³ cups of water.  Let the water cook down by about half.  Add cream cheese and simmer until cheese has melted, stirring occasionally.  Set aside to cool.  While meat is cooking, add pasta shells to water and cook according to package directions.  Drain pasta shells and set out individually on flat surface so they don’t stick together.

Preheat oven to 350°.  Spray 9×13 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.  Pour salsa on bottom of dish.  Stuff each shell with the meat mixture and place open side up in baking dish.  Cover shells with taco sauce.  Cover dish with foil and back for 30 minutes.  Remove foil and add shredded cheese; bake for 10-15 more minutes until cheese is golden brown.

Wine Pairing Suggestions:

Beaujolais
Malbec
Merlot
Syrah / Shiraz
Zinfandel

Serves 4

Total time: About an hour

Mexican Stuffed Shells

Mexican Stuffed Shells

*Derived from The Way to His Heart

Mushroom and Sausage Ragu with Polenta

If I had an Italian grandma, this is what she would make.  I can even imagine the whole huge family gathering at her house for Sunday dinner.  As everyone makes their way inside the front door, they stomp the snow off of their books, remove their coats and scarves, and are overcome with the wonderful aroma of the sausage and mushroom bubbling away quietly on the stove.  But, I don’t have an Italian grandma, a large family, or live where it snows.  That, however, did not stop me from making this for Sunday dinner with my fantastic little family.  Suffice it to say, my Italian grandma would do a better job of the polenta than me.  It wasn’t all my fault though!  A big part of it is that 1970s stove top I’m working on (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it).  I will try this again, but will be more kind with my polenta, and maybe my polenta will be more kind with me.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 Tbs olive oil, divided
8 oz sweet turkey Italian sausage (original recipe called for hot, but I knew the kidlets would NOT be on board for that)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 lb sliced cremini mushrooms
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp kosher salt, divided
1 (14.5 oz) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
2 1/2 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup uncooked polenta
4 oz 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
1 Tbs butter

Preparation:

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 1 1/2 tsp olive oil to pan, swirling to coat.  Remove sausage from casings and add sausage to pan; saute about 3 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble.  Removed sausage from pan.

Add 1 Tbs olive oil to pan, swirling to coat.  Add onion; saute 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add mushrooms; saute 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add garlic; saute 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Stir in sausage, 1/8 tsp salt, and tomatoes, bring to a simmer.  Reduce heat to medium; simmer gently for 15 minutes.

Bring broth and 1 1/2 cups of water to  boil in medium saucepan.  Add polenta, stirring well.  Reduce heat to medium, and simmer 20 minutes, or until thick, stirring occasionally.  Stir in remaining 1/8 tsp salt, cream cheese, and butter.  Serve over with sausage mixture.

Wine Pairings Suggestions:
Cabernet FrancMalbec
Merlot
Pinot Noir
Sangiovese

Serves: 6
Prep Time: 10 minutes; Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Sausage Ragu

*Courtesy Cooking Light

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Quick Pastitsio

You know how a craving starts out as something that just sounds good, quickly moves into an itch you can’t seem to scratch, and then makes its way to a tick causing your eye to twitch or walk with a limp?  Even though it’s still warm here in Cali, I just had to prepare some comfort food.   I had been really craving it lately and the craving was moving into the tick phase.  As soon as I saw this recipe in my binder, I knew it would put that tick to rest and my eye would finally stop twitching.  Let me tell you, it did not disappoint!  The only thing I’ll do different next time is add some fresh basil.  By the time the pasta came out of the oven the kids were starving and begging to eat, asking, “Oh Mommy, what is that smell?  It smells SO good in here.  Can we eat right now?  I can’t wait any more!”  I completely forgot to run outside and snip some basil.  This dish could easily be made vegetarian by subbing the meat for mushrooms, mushrooms and Japanese eggplant, mushrooms and artichoke hearts.  So many veggie options!  PS – Yum!  Reheat for lunch is just as good as dinner!

Ingredients:

8 oz uncooked penne (or any tube-shaped pasta)
Cooking spray
1 lb lean ground sirloin
1 Tbs olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
5 cloves minced garlic
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbs all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (recipe called for fat-free, I used 2%)
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained
7 oz Neufchâtel cream cheese
3/4 cup shredded parmesan or mozzarella
2 Tbs chopped fresh basil

Preparation:

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting fat and salt.  Drain.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat.  Add beef to pan; saute 5 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble.  Remove beef from pan; drain.  Wipe pan clean with paper towels.  Add oil to pan; swirling to coat.  Add onion; saute 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add garlic; saute 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Add beef; sprinkle with salt.  Add flour; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently.  Stir in milk, tomatoes, and Neufchâtel, stirring until smooth; bring to a simmer.  Cook 2 minutes or until heated through.  Stir in pasta.

Preheat broiler.  Coat a 13×9 inch broiler-safe baking dish with cooking spray.  Spoon pasta mixture into dish, sprinkle with parmesan or mozzarella.  Broil 4 minutes or until golden.  Sprinkle with fresh chopped basil.

Serves 6 large helpings

Hands on time: 17 minutes; Total time: 40 minutes

Pastitsio 3

*Derived from Cooking Light