I am a recovering Giada de Laurentiis super-fan. Unless you went to college with me, you were probably unaware that such a thing existed. When I first started cooking, there was a part of me that truly felt that Giada was my personal culinary tutor, and quite possibly, my best friend (if only she knew me). Rationally, I was aware that this was all untrue, but on a visceral level, I had other beliefs. I watched Everyday Italian at 4:30 pm, daily. Nothing could deter me; the show brought out a degree of concentration I only wish I could achieve in grad school.
Thankfully, I have grown out of this specific psychosis. A lot has changed since I first fell in love with Giada and the Food Network. I quenched my thirst for basic information, and have since broadened my spectrum of cooking resources. And personally, I think the Food Network (including Giada) has changed tremendously in the last five years. It has moved towards the mass appeal of the everyday cook, focusing on quick and easy recipes for weeknight dinners. I mean no criticism of this; the Food Network gets people cooking by making it accessible and entertaining, which is great. But I do miss the days when Giada wore an apron and her hair tied back, while making pastry dough and marinara sauce from scratch. And it’s not because I do this all the time myself (I used jarred sauce in this recipe; don’t judge me), but I want the people I admire to do better than me. With that being said, I will conclude the sob story, because I still watch and enjoy the Food Network when given the opportunity. Ultimately, the preparation of this recipe is in homage to Giada, who truly did play a huge role in teaching me to cook, and I’m sure many others as well. There have got to be other people out there like me, right?
1 (12-ounce) box jumbo pasta shells (recommended: Barilla)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound ground turkey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus 1/4 teaspoon
1 (8 to 10-ounce) package frozen artichokes, thawed and coarsely chopped
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (I omitted the basil and added extra parley)
5 cups Arrabbiata* Sauce, recipe follows
1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella (about 5 ounces)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and partially cook until tender but still very firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain pasta.
Meanwhile, in a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and the garlic and cook until the onions are soft and starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the ground turkey, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is slightly golden and cooked through. Add the artichoke hearts and stir to combine. Remove from heat and let cool.
In a large bowl combine the cooled turkey mixture with the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, eggs, basil, parsley, and the remaining salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
To stuff the shells, cover the bottom of a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking dish with 1 cup of Arrabbiata sauce. Take a shell in the palm of your hand and stuff it with a large spoonful of turkey mixture, about 2 tablespoons. Place the stuffed shell in the baking dish. Continue filling the shells until the baking dish is full, about 24 shells. Drizzle the remaining Arrabbiata Sauce over the shells, top with the grated mozzarella. If freezing, cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 1 day and up to 1 month.
To bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake until the shells are warmed through and the cheese is beginning to brown, about 60 minutes (20 minutes if shells are unfrozen.)
For Giada’s arrabbiata sauce recipe, click here.
Comments: I probably should have followed the recipe. On a rare occasion, that’s a good idea. But I didn’t feel like spending the money on pancetta and basil. And I certainly didn’t have the time to whip up that arrabbiata* sauce after studying motor speech disorders all day. So I used jarred marinara sauce, and added a good teaspoon of hot pepper flakes to the filling instead. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure that a spicy sauce with a salty low note of pancetta* would have been better than the sweetness of marinara (note: Giada's arrabbiata calls for pancetta, but most recipes do not). Regardless, homemade sauce would have been better. Plus it’s so much fun to make when I have the time. Despite, the hot pepper flakes in the filling, the dish was not spicy, although this may have been due to my impending cold. The artichokes were a major selling point on this recipe, but they didn’t really add much flavor. I think mushrooms and spinach would have been better. And I’m kicking myself because I used frozen artichokes for the first time in my life, like the recipe called for, mind you. Now I’m wondering if the lack of flavor was due to the recipe or the frozen factor because I’ve never been disappointed by a canned artichoke heart. I will try not to lose too much sleep over it.
Another strange thing: I ended up with about third of the pasta shells unused. The filling was depleted, and the pan was packed with 25 shells, yet I had leftover shells. I threw them out because I could not for the life of me think of a purpose for par-cooked jumbo shells. I suppose I over stuffed the shells and would have been able to fit more into the pan if I had packed them a little more delicately. Between the frozen artichokes and the excess shells, I will be pondering the mysteries of this recipe for years. All in all, the pasta was pretty tasty: hearty and satisfying. Rumor has it that I may have even scarfed down a few shells cold. I was just irked because I knew it could have been better. Sometimes, mediocrity is harder to swallow than failure. My next recipe better be foolproof. Every cook needs an occasional confidence booster, and the psycho cooker is currently in such a state.
*See glossary for definitions