Stuffed Shells and Cheese and Nut Terrine

1 Nov

On Halloween night, it finally started to feel like Autumn. I’m always loathe to relinquish the last few carefree patches of warm summer sunshine, jacket-free strolls with Penny, glove-free commutes and the refreshing sound of ice clinking around tall glasses of fizzy G&T’s sipped outside at dusk. But even I have to admit: it’s about time.

Even I — consummate craver of sun-drenched berries; sweet corn; over-ripe tomatoes and crisp, young lettuce leaves — am ready to bundle up for the farmer’s market, munch on hot apple cider donuts by the dozen, whip up warm pear tarts and drain down tongue-singing mugs of dark hot chocolate upon which fat, cascading, quivering, melting mounds of whipped cream sit like jolly sumo wrestlers awaiting battle.

This weekend, Stephen and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary by lunching at that classic Brooklyn Golden Oldie, the River Cafe, and taking one final turn around our Brooklyn Heights apartment. It was an auspicious farewell to summer and Brooklyn. (We sat next to Michael Moore! He was dressed up in his Sunday best: baseball cap, wrinkled khaki shorts, pill-plagued fleece. Fancy!)

After eating a delicious meal of scallop ceviche, perfectly cooked branzino stuffed with sausages and shrimp and topped with a thin layer of crisp, buttery toast and chocolate covered orange petit fours that reminded me of our trip to Paris, we strolled gloriously hat and glove-free to our old apartment, closed it up, collected our final grubby remnants from the cabinets, threw out some old fish sauce and headed back to Westchester like the corny suburbanites we’re becoming.

When I woke up on Sunday, the air had a definitive, thrilling chill. I decided to celebrate our national day of spookiness and the first proper evening of ectothermia by cranking out a veritable pu pu platter of cold-busting and ghost-vanquishing cheesiness.

Who could possibly shiver while consuming cheese?

Ricotta and Goat Cheese Stuffed Shells

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 12-ounce package of jumbo pasta shells
  • 1 large egg
  • 12 ounces of ricotta
  • 4 ounces of goat cheese (not fresh, with rind intact when purchased), softened and rind removed
  • 16 ounces of frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed try and chopped
  • 2 TBSP fresh parsley, basil or thyme or a combination
  • 1/4 cup plain fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • Dash nutmeg
  • 1 28-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes or pasta sauce (I used leftover sauce from last week’s Budget Osso Buco); if using a plain sauce, feel free to toss in a half-cup of cooked sausage or pitted and halved black olives
  • 1 ounce grated Parmesan
  • 2 9 X 13 baking dishes

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Cook pasta shells according to package directions; make sure to use plenty of salted water. Drain and set aside.
  • Beat egg in large bowl. Add ricotta, goat cheese, spinach, herbs, bread crumbs, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Mix until thoroughly combined.
  • Spread half a cup of the pasta sauce in the bottom of each cooking vessel.
  • Use medium-sized metal spoon to fill the shells with the stuffing, arrange in cooking dishes.
  • Pour the remaining pasta sauce over the shells
  • Cover in foil and pop in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, remove foil, add Parmesan and cook uncovered for 5 minutes, until cheese has melted and serve.

Blue, Ricotta, Goat and Cream Cheese Terrine Layered with Walnuts

Makes 10-40 servings, depending on how you slice it

Adapted from Food & Wine

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup toasted walnuts, finely chopped by hand or in food processor
  • 10 ounces blue cheese, the stinkier the better, softened
  • 2 ounces ricotta
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 8 ounces goat cheese, not fresh, rind intact when purchased, softened and rind removed
  • 1/4 cup chives, parsley or thyme, or a combination, finely chopped
  • Freshly ground pepper and salt, to taste
  • Toast and olive oil for serving

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 350.
  • Line a loaf pan with saran wrap, allowing at least four inches to hang over on the longest 2 sides.
  • In a blender or food processor, puree the blue cheese, ricotta, two thirds of the cream cheese with salt and pepper until smooth.
  • Using a spatula, blend the goat cheese with the remaining cream cheese, herbs, salt and pepper.
  • Sprinkle half of the walnut mixture into the loaf pan. Spread half of the blue cheese mix on top. Sprinkle with one-third of the remaining walnuts.
  • Spread goat cheese mixture on top. Sprinkle with the remaining walnuts. Fold plastic wrap over the top and press lightly. Put in fridge for a minimum of 6 hours, up to 2 days.
  • To unmold, unwrap the terrine, lift it out by the plastic wrap, turn it out onto a platter or very large plate. While cold, slice it into 1/4″, 1/2″ and/or 1″ pieces. Let it return to room temperature.
  • Toast pumpernickel, baguette or plain old white bread. Drizzle with olive oil. Serve with sliced terrine.

Nutritional breakdown for the Stuffed Shells: Stuffed shells with whole-fat cheese (the only way to stuff em) aren’t diet food, but they may not be as bad as you think. Remember, they’ve also been bombed with gobs of spinach and tomato sauce. Also. They are going to be delicious. About 400 calories per serving and 20 grams of fat. Great source of protein, calcium, iron. Good source of Vitamins A, K, B6, E and potassium. They are quite high in sodium.

Nutritional breakdown for the Cheese and Nut Terrine: This dish embodies the French paradox. The way Americans look at food, this should be a total gut-busting nightmare. But it’s not. If you slather 1/4″ slice on bread, it’s 75 calories and 4.8 grams of fat. It’s incredibly satisfying and filling — and it’s loaded with Omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, protein, riboflavin and phosphorus.

Cost breakdown for the Stuffed Shells: About $21, or $2.62 a serving.

Cost breakdown for the Cheese and Nut Terrine: I had many of the ingredients at home because the recipe overlapped with the stuffed shells. If I were buying it all from scratch, it would be about $19.00, or $0.47 – $1.90 a serving, depending on how you slice it.

The verdict: The shells are the quintessential Autumnal food; hearty without being overly rich, a harvest full of assertive flavors and a lot of room for flexibility and creativity (almost any ingredient under the waning sun could be subbed out or in). The terrine was a blast to make; the cheese, herbs and nuts create a perfect storm of flavor in small doses, and it’s fab in theory for our snacky, on-the-go eating habits. But we still have way too much for just us. When Stephen saw me mixing the stuffing for the shells he got supremely confused. His eyes darted from the cheese terrine (already out and coming to room temp) and my bowl of stuffing; he sputtered. The man sputtered! “Wait. But.” Silence. Not used to silence or sputtering from the peanut gallery, I glanced over my shoulder inquiringly only to see him point mutely at first the terrine and then my bowl. Then back again. Finally, robot-like, he quietly muttered, his eyes glazed over: “I don’t understand. Why? There is so much cheese.” Like a traumatized child having a toy that it has craved for months dangled before his eyes by an abusive parent, he was convinced I would remove the windfall from him at the last moment. Forty-five minutes later, when it was all ready and plated, he still seemed tentative. “I get to eat this much cheese?” Yes, Stephen. You get to eat that much cheese.

Make them again: The shells will definitely become part of our regular rotation, with tweaks depending on what’s in the larder and what we’re craving. I will make the terrine again too — but only for holidays and parties.

In the future: “My one complaint is that there’s not enough sauce!” We love our sauce. In fact, we like sauce with our sauce. In our sundaes, it’s hard to find the ice cream under the volcanic eruption of fudge. Our nachos look like victims of gang warfare. Bare patch of pizza pie? For shame. Next time, I’ll throw another 8 to 12 ounces in for good measure. But that’s just us. Not everyone needs every millimeter of carb to be submerged in the red stuff.

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