Friday, March 2, 2012

Mamma Bianco's Sausage Gorgonzola Stuffed Shells

When I was a little girl, I used to live on Blandina Street, upstairs from an old woman we called Mamma Bianco. Everyone in the neighborhood would call her Mamma Bianco, whether they were related to her, or not. She would make these amazing stuffed shells with baby shells inside, and the memory of her describing her food to me, in her broken English accent, is still very vivid in my mind. Hope she would approve of my adaptation!

 These stuffed shells are a great, classic, comfort-food recipe, but achieves that stratus by adding  hot ground Italian sausage to the mix.  I upped the ante on the alfredo sauce by adding a pungent, gorgonzola cheese in addition to the Parmigiano Reggiano grated cheese. The result is a velvety sauce with a real voice that can stand up to the heft of the hot Italian sausage.   Tiny, macaroni shells are the perfect filling, as they help collect the creamy sauce.  A quick saute in olive oil, infuses garlic into the grape tomatoes and pepperoncini pieces.  While the acidity of the sweet, grape tomatoes, along with fresh baby spinach, cuts through the creamy alfredo sauce, and gives this recipe a fresh pop.  The addition of pine nuts gives a nuttiness and unexpected textural interest.

Housing the mixture in large, individual shells makes a handsome presentation, and is perfect for pot luck gatherings or entertaining guests. Each stuffed shell is truly the sum of it's parts, with each ingredient standing out individually.   This recipe is festive and flavorful, plus all the colors of the Italian flag are represented, to boot!  It comes together so quick and easily, and you can't imagine how delicious this recipe really is until you just make it!  Buon Appetito!

3 cups of heavy cream
½ cup of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (grated)
8 tablespoons of butter
1 cup of crumbled gorgonzola cheese
1  ½ cups of ricotta cheese
10 ounces of ground hot Italian sausage
2 cups of grape tomatoes (halved)
2 cups of baby spinach
1 box of large macaroni shells
½ pound of tiny macaroni shells
½ teaspoon of nutmeg (for alfredo sauce)
Salt & Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large skillet on medium heat, sauté ground Italian sausage with one teaspoon of garlic.  (Do not use olive oil, as there is enough oil in the sausage that will release.)  Break into crumbles and set aside.  To make the alfredo sauce, bring the heavy cream and butter to a simmer. Add the nutmeg, Parmigiano Reggiano and gorgonzola cheeses and simmer for a few minutes until the sauce is smooth.  Remove from heat. Do not leave on low heat as the sauce will get very thick with the added heat.  

Boil both macaroni shells in separate pots of salted water until they are el dente.  Do not overcook macaroni, as it will continue to cook while it is baking.  Fold the sautéed sausage, grape tomatoes,  and spinach into the ricotta cheese.  Toss the tiny macaroni shells with this mixture and carefully stuff each large shell with this mixture. Spread a couple tablespoons of alfredo sauce in the bottom of a baking dish and line the baking dish with the stuffed shells. Pour the remaining gorgonzola alfredo sauce over each stuffed shell. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the shells get a nice golden color.

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