Monday, November 22, 2010

Tuna-Stuffed Shells

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I was trying to think of something different to make for my Monday evening tasting group and saw a mention in a restaurant review: tuna meatballs. That didn't ring my chimes but I thought about stuffed shells. How about tuna-stuffed shells?

The first try was a bit ordinary but I liked the idea. I spiffed up the filling flavors with some good smoky bacon and sundried tomatoes and changed the sauce from a marinara type to a sharp asiago cheese sauce. Voilà!

I baked the shells in individual gratin dishes, but you could just as easily do this in one large baking dish.

This makes 18 shells. I put three in each casserole, but we had started the meal with soup, and everyone agreed that with a salad, two would be enough for most people. One was enough for me.

The stuffed shells, without the sauce, could be make ahead and frozen on a baking sheet. Placed in freezer bags, you would have the makings for a quick meal on short notice.

This exact same recipe would be wonderful with either crab meat (use the lump, not the more expensive jumbo lump) or cooked salmon.


18 large pasta shells

For the filling:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup onion, chopped
2 strips good smoky bacon, cut into 1/4" strips
2 7-ounce cans tuna in olive oil, lightly drained
1 cup fresh bread crumbs from firm white or baguette bread
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup sundried tomato, diced (See notes)
2 tablespoons parsley, minced

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups half-and-half (See notes)
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg)
12 ounces sharp asiago cheese or imported fontina, grated
2 tablespoons flour

To finish:
2 tablespoons sundried tomato, diced
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, slivered

In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, onion and bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender and the bacon is cooked (the bacon will not be crisp or browned). Let cool completely.

Place the bread crumbs in a food processor. Add the tuna and the onion mixture. Pulse several times to just combine. Scrape into a mixing bowl and stir in the egg, sundried tomato and parsley.

Make the sauce: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook over low heat for about three minutes. Whisk in the chicken stock and wine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until reduced by about a third. Add the half-and-half. In a large bowl, toss the grated cheese with the flour to cover. Add to the sauce and heat, stirring constantly until the cheese is melted. Do not let the sauce boil.

Cook the shells according to package directions, using the lowest cooking time given. Drain and carefully spread on paper towels. Fill each one with a heaping tablespoon of the filling.

When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the shells into well-buttered individual oven-proof dishes, or one shallow baking dish, with the seam side up. They should fit snugly. Pour the sauce over the top, being sure to cover all the edges of the shells. Bake until the sauce is bubbly and the top is just starting to brown, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with the sundried tomato and basil garnish and serve. Serves 6 to 8.

NOTES: (1) I used sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil. If you use the dehydrated kind, soak them in hot water for an hour or so before using. (2) You could substitute whole milk for the half-and-half but the sauce might curdle a bit in the cooking. That won't hurt it at all.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Italian Chestnut Stuffed Onions


You may know that my husband and I recently made a wonderful trip to Italy. A week of the trip was spent with a car, motoring around the Chianti district of Tuscany. We saw all the sights but we also indulged in an awful lot of great food and wine. Several seasonal ingredients were on most menus: cinghiale (wild boar), chestnuts and zucca (which refers to most any of the winter squashes).

One evening we dined at a small country restaurant with a fixed menu. The only antipasto offered was a chestnut-stuffed onion. It was served with a small salad and both of us just lapped it up. I knew I wanted to try it. Then I got several emails from readers asking if I planned on giving my annual fall chestnuts-in-anything-but-dressing recipe. I knew it was time.
I had a group of friends coming for dinner and served this as an antipasto, as we'd had it, with a salad on the side.

It would also make a great side dish with your Thanksgiving turkey, or grilled meats or poultry. In fact, it's filling enough to serve as a light lunch, brunch or supper entree with a bigger salad.

You might see fresh chestnuts in local markets, but I'd go with jarred cooked chestnuts. They're available at Fresh Market and Whole Foods, and at some local supermarkets.

You can prepare the onions for the final baking a couple of hours before dinner and bake when you're ready for them. Or you could do the first baking, add the chestnut stuffing, cover and chill up to a day ahead. Let them come to room temperature and then add the cheese and butter right before baking.

I didn't have any leftovers but if I had I would have chopped it all together and mixed it with sliced potatoes and then continued with my basic scalloped potato recipe. Doesn't that sound yummy?

Chestnut Stuffed Onions

4 large yellow onions
2 tbsp. minced parsley
1 tbsp minced fresh sage
1 tbsp minced fresh thyme leaves
1 large pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Extra virgin olive oil
8 oz cooked chestnuts
2 tbsp sweet Marsala wine
1 more pinch nutmeg
8 slices pancetta
4 tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
Cold butter
1/2 cup dry white wine (or chicken stock)
Fresh thyme sprigs for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375o. Cut a thin slice off the stem and root ends so the onion will set level in the baking pan. Peel the onions and cut them in half crosswise. Place in a well oiled baking dish just large enough to hold them all in one layer. Sprinkle with the parsley, sage, thyme and nutmeg, and salt and pepper lightly. Sprinkle with olive oil. Cover the dish tightly (with lid or foil) and bake for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely chop the chestnuts and mix with the wine and nutmeg. Raise the oven temperature to 400o. Place a slice of pancetta over each onion half. Divide the stuffing among the onions and mound on top of the pancetta. Sprinkle with the grated cheese. Using a vegetable peeler, make a shavings of butter and place one on each onion half. Pour the wine into the pan around the onions.

Bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes, until onion is tender and topping is lightly browned. Place on a serving platter (or individual dishes) and garnish with fresh thyme sprigs. Serves 8.
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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Tale of Three Ribolittas

A couple of years ago, I wrote about one of my favorite Italian soups, ribollita. Back in Tuscany recently for a visit, I had the chance to enjoy it three times.

The first was in Siena. Mostly beans and bread, it was more a stew than a soup. Okay, I guess, but...


The next was in a little wine bar down the street from our hotel in Radda in Chianti. Ah, this is more like it! Lots of veggies and plenty of broth even after the chunks of bread were soaked through.


The last was in a restaurant in a back street in San Gimignano. Nearly perfect!

Now I can't wait for the weather to get cool enough in Memphis to have another go at it!
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