Ricotta & Mint Conchiglioni Pasta

Ricotta and Mint Conchiglioni Pasta

Ricotta and Mint Conchiglioni Pasta

Conchiglioni are gigantic pasta shells, large enough to be used as an alternative to cannelloni and stuffed with ricotta.  This is a really delicious meal, great vegetarian offering, and packed with rich flavour without being heavy or overly fatty.  Use full fat or low fat ricotta, to your preference, however don't use the creamy ricotta (the runny one) as the shells with all meld into one another and the filling will ooze out and cover the surface of your dish.

Pre-heat oven to 180°C

1 packet Conchiglioni pasta – giant pasta shells
800 grams fresh ricotta cheese
1 generous bunch of mint, finely chopped
Handful of parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme sprigs
2 eggs
100 grams pinenuts
100 grams finely grated parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
½ teaspoon ground fennel
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon coarsely grated black pepper

For the sauce:
200mls tomato puree or passata
2 tins of whole tomatoes
3 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup red wine
¼ cup beef or vegetable stock (beef will give a deeper, more intense flavour)
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped
1 spring onion, finely chopped
300 grams fresh cherry tomatoes, whole
Extra salt and pepper to taste
Freshly shaved parmesan to top

Ricotta and Mint Conchiglioni PastaIn a large bowl, combine the ricotta with the eggs, pinenuts, salt, herbs and spices. 
Mix well then place in a large sieve or colander, then place the sieve in the sink.   Press a plate onto the top of the mixture and press down firmly until some of the liquid is forced from the cheese.  Leave the cheese to stand for about 10 minutes, while the tomato sauce is prepared.

In the base of a deep baking dish, add the tomato paste, tomato puree, tinned tomatoes, garlic, spring onion, basil, salt and pepper.  Combine well then add the wine and stock to loosen the mixture to form and fairly runny tomato sauce.  Taste, add additional salt and pepper if desired, or if the sauce is too tart add a pinch of sugar.

Spoon about a tablespoonful of the ricotta mixture into each Conchiglioni pasta – do not over fill, just allow the mixture to come to the rim of the shell.
Nestle the shells into the tomato sauce in the baking dish, pressing them together quite closely without letting the filling spill out.
Once all the shells are in the baking dish press them down gently to ensure they are sitting in the sauce.  The tomato sauce should come to just below the edge of the shells – if your shells are too exposed they will burn, so add a little extra wine or stock to raise the sauce up if it is at low tide.

Sprinkle over the shaved parmesan and lastly add the cherry tomatoes to the top of the dish.  Drizzle with shells with olive oil and bake for 35 minutes in a moderately hot oven, or until the pasta shells are softened and the sauce has thickened up around the Conchiglioni and the filling has a golden crust.  The cherry tomatoes will cook through, slightly caramelise and burst as they cook, keeping the dish moist and delicious.

Serve with good red wine and crusty bread, or a light salad.
Fabulous re-heated...  actually it is better the second day!