Stuffed Shells

Stuffed Shells is one of my daughter’s favorite meals. It is usually what she requests for her birthday. Which is okay with the rest of the family because we all love it. It’s an excellent choice when you need to serve something to guest, especially if you need a meatless dish. It can be made ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen. (Thaw on the counter before cooking.) I’ve even cooked them in the crock-pot. It works best to double the sauce so they don’t dry out in the crock-pot.

Stuffed Shells

Cheese filling:
2 lbs. ricotta cheese
1/2 lb. shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. parsley flakes
1/8 tsp. pepper

1 (32 oz.) jar marinara sauce
1 large box large shell pasta

Mix all ingredients for cheese filling thoroughly.
Cook manicotti pasta according to package directions. Drain; handling carefully, stuff each shell with 1/3-1/2 c. of cheese filling. (I use a large spoon and eyeball it.)
Cover the bottom of a 3 quart baking dish with a thin layer of spaghetti sauce. Lay shells side by side. Pour remaining sauce over stuffed shells. Sprinkle top with extra Parmesan cheese. Bake ate 350 degrees F for 40 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Friday Night is Homemade Pizza Night

Homemade pizza on Friday nights has been a tradition for me practically my entire life. Now granted, my mom disliked cooking and kind of “cheated” with frozen bread dough and canned sauce, but at least it wasn’t the frozen cardboard most people were eating in the 80’s! Some Fridays, we’d play board games while we ate our favorite meal of the week. Most of the time, we tried to talk my parents into watching TV, which was a special treat. Once the VCR became a part of our teenage lives, we moved on to it being movie night as well. On a side note, it was also the only night we drank soda and ate ice cream. Yes, times have definitely changed!

But back to the pizza… When I married, I brought this favorite food ritual with me. I quickly learned that making pizza dough was no big deal. The recipe I used the most required kneading and some rise time. I also had one that 30 minutes of prep for those days when I had more going on but it wasn’t as good. After several years, our homeschooling schedule changed and all of the sudden, I wasn’t home during the day on Fridays anymore. I tried making the dough ahead of time and freezing it after the first rise. That worked well…as long as I remembered to take it out of the freezer in the morning before I left. Then I stumbled upon a recipe for pizza dough made in a bread machine. Oh my!! It was the most amazing pizza crust I had ever made and very close to takeout. So chewy and flavorful! I threw all the other recipes out (well, not really) and haven’t used them since.

Pizza Dough (Bread Machine)

1 cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
2 1/2 cups bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast
cornmeal, for sprinkling (optional, but recommended)

Place all ingredients except cornmeal into your bread machine according to your manufacturer’s directions. For my bread machine it is in the order listed above. Choose “Dough Cycle.” (It works fine to set it to start several hours later.)
Once dough cycle has finished, turn out onto a large pizza pan sprayed lightly with oil and then sprinkled with cornmeal. Pat and stretch dough out into a 14-inch round.

Pizza Sauce

1 cup can tomato sauce
1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
2 tablespoons grated, reduced-fat Parmesan cheese

Combine all ingredients and spread over pizza dough.
Top with favorite  toppings and shredded mozzarella cheese.
Bake at 400°F for 20-22 minutes or desired doneness.

Another really delicious option is to make Spinach and Tomato Pizza. I’ve tried a couple different recipes which usually had you combine olive oil, garlic and herbs for your “sauce.” You then topped it with fresh spinach and fresh tomatoes. All of those options were very tasty. However, I ended up improvising one week when we got snowed in unexpectedly and I didn’t have fresh spinach or tomatoes on hand. The result was so popular, that’s what I have stuck with except for when tomatoes are in season.

I don’t really measure any of this. Just eyeball it. I drain really well one (15 oz.) can of petite diced tomatoes. Then I thaw out about 2 cups chopped frozen spinach in the microwave and squeeze the water out of it with paper towels. (After, it will be less than 1 cup of spinach. Don’t worry about that.) Combine the tomatoes and spinach in a bowl. Add some Italian Dressing, homemade if possible. (Maybe 1/4 cup?) Then mix in some grated/powdered Parmesan cheese to thicken it up a bit. Spread on crust. Top with cheese, mozzarella and feta are really good together on this. Sprinkle with Italian Seasoning if desired. Bake at 400° for 20-22 minutes.

Spinach and Artichoke Pizza is also good.  I topped my pizza crust with garlic & olive oil, artichoke hearts, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella, feta cheese and sprinkled it with some dried basil. Bake as described above.

If seafood is your thing, you might want to prepare my Shrimp or Lobster Gourmet Pizza. My family declared it “the best ever” when I fixed it for them.

My Mediterranean Greek Pizza is another tasty option to try.

No matter what your flavor preference, I hope you too will enjoy the tradition of homemade pizza!