This is a dish my mother, Ava's grandma, used to make, and Ava just picked it up and made it a part of our repertoire. The shells are such an old-school form of pasta — when you're a kid, they're kind of like a precursor to ravioli. The acid of the tomatoes and the creaminess of the ricotta work together to bring this dish to life.
Ava sometimes likes to drizzle olive oil over a few 1/2-inch-think eggplant rounds, sprinkle them with salt and bake them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper alongside the shells. She serves them like a stack of pancakes on the side (and, like a substitute for sausages or meatballs with the shells — my mom would've loved this smart swap). Broccolini would work well here, too.
- kosher salt
- 1 pound large pasta shells
- 2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese (store-bought or homemade)
- 3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 6 sprigs basil, chopped, stems and all
- 3 cups tomato sauce (store-bought or homemade)
Cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Season the water with salt (it should taste like mild seawater). Add the shells and stir with a large, slotted spoon to ensure the pasta does not stick to the pan (or to itself) as it cooks. Cook until still quite firm, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain and refrigerate on a baking sheet.2.
Preheat the oven to 375 F.3.
Prepare the ricotta filling: Gently spread the ricotta across the bottom and up the sides of a large bowl. Season with salt and sprinkle half of the Parmesan over it in an even layer. Use a small strainer to sift the nutmeg in an even layer over the cheese. Add the egg and basil and mix to blend.4.
Stuff and bake: Spread a little sauce across the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Remove the shells from the fridge and spoon about 1 tablespoon of the filling into each shell. Arrange the shells snugly in a single layer in the dish. Spoon the remaining sauce over the shells and place the dish in the oven. Bake until browned and the cheese is crisp around the edges, 15 to 18 minutes. Top with the remaining Parmesan and place the dish under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes to finish. Let the shells rest for 10 to 15 minutes to settle. Taste for seasoning and serve with more Parmesan.
Reprinted with permission from "Cook It Up: Bold Moves for Family Foods: A Cookbook" by Alex Guarnaschelli and Ava Clark copyright © 2023. Photographs Copyright © 2023 by Suech and Beck. Photographs Copyright © 2023 by Ken Goodman. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House.