School is coming. It looms. It’s out there. In just a few days, the air will be thick with parental pressure, foreboding schedules and a bunch of not fun responsibilities. I’m spending this week mentally preparing for that abrupt change in rhythm—when the languid summer becomes the regimented school year.
One way I deal with the new schedule it is to spend a little time toward the end of summer stocking the freezer with homemade dishes. Chili, soups, baked pastas, enchiladas and casseroles are all easy freezer foods, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to make sure you’ve got a few of your favorites on hand for thawing during the busy school week.
This stuffed shells recipe is a great example. It’s quick to assemble and can be tweaked in lots of different directions. Substitute ground turkey, beef or tofu for the Italian sausage; add chopped spinach; or make it entirely vegetarian with diced and sautéed summer veggies like squash, peppers, mushrooms and eggplant. Assemble the shells in a glass casserole with a rubber lid or in a disposable pan. Pop in the freezer, and thaw when ready. You can also heat this dish from a frozen state. Just increase the cooking time as described below.
Sausage and Ricotta Stuffed Shells
1 12-ounce box jumbo pasta shells
1 pound Italian sausage
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
½ cup chopped basil
24-ounce jar pasta sauce, or homemade marinara
15-ounce container ricotta cheese
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 cup shredded mozzarella
Basil for garnish
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside. Add the sausage and onion to a sauté pan and sauté until sausage is cooked through and broken into even crumbles. Drain off the fat. Whisk in the egg and basil. In the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch pan, add enough pasta sauce to just cover. Pour the ricotta into to a medium mixing bowl. Stir in the sausage and basil mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon about two tablespoons of the sausage-ricotta mixture into each pasta shell until all the shells are filled or the cheese mixture runs out. Place the shells on top of the pasta sauce. Drizzle more pasta sauce on top. Cover the top of the shells with mozzarella. Cover tightly and freeze.
To bake from a thawed state: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cover the top of the dish with aluminum foil, and bake for about 25-30 minutes.
To bake from a frozen state: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cover the top of the dish with aluminum foil, and bake for about 45-50 minutes.
When ready to serve, top with fresh basil.
Maggie Heyn Richardson is a regular 225 contributor. Reach her at hungryforlouisiana.com.