Mexican stuffed shells (6-8 servings)

Back in college, my roommate Jess and I had a habit of opening the fridge, taking stock of the unused ingredients inside, and asking, "What could I make with _____, _____, _____, and _____?" (One particularly sketchy combination of random ingredients caused her to shudder and reply, "Danger.") Today's recipe was inspired by a similar situation: Bryan's request for stuffed shells and my need to use up a tub of homemade pineapple salsa from his coworker and some Celebrity Dairy chipotle goat cheese.

I started thinking about what kinds of molto loco Italian-Mexican fusion recipes I could create. Which ingredients are well loved in both Italy and Mexico? Why, cheese, tomatoes, and oregano, of course! And thus, Mexican stuffed shells were born. The cheese inside the shells is flavored with some traditional Mexican flavors, and chunky, colorful salsa takes the place of marinara sauce on top. Colorful, creamy, and comforting, this dish is satisfying on any continent.

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 18-20 dry jumbo pasta shells
  • 15-oz tub part-skim ricotta cheese
  • Approx. 1/2 cup soft goat cheese (chipotle flavored, if you can find it)
  • Dash chipotle powder (if you're using plain goat cheese)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 cups salsa, with a few spoonfuls set aside for garnish
  • 8-oz can plain tomato sauce

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 2-quart baking dish with non-stick foil or spritz it with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Cook pasta shells according to package directions. Once they're cooked, gently fish them out with a slotted spoon and place them on a tray lined with foil to cool.
  3. While shells are cooking, mix the cheeses, egg, herbs, and spices in a medium bowl, adding in a dash of salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, stir the salsa (minus the garnish portion) and tomato sauce together.
  4. Spread a few tablespoons of the salsa mixture across the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Once shells are cool enough to handle, fill each with a heaping tablespoon of the cheese mixture. Fill shells one at a time, lining them up across the baking dish. Pour the remaining salsa mixture over the shells. Cover the baking dish with foil. (If needed, you can pause here and keep the prepared shells in the fridge overnight and bake them the next day.)
  5. Bake the stuffed shells for 15 minutes, then remove the top foil and bake, uncovered, for another 15-20 minutes, until bubbly and warmed through. Serve immediately.

I think you'll enjoy this cheesy, zesty comfort food. Salute!/Salud!