I lived my whole life in Houston, up until the day I went off to college and moved to Bryan/College Station, an area well-known for being the home of Texas A& M University and it’s fight’n Texas Aggies. It was a big-small town, and through this Houstonian’s eyes, it was the perfect mix of rural and suburban. It was full of wonderful, kind people. The kind of people that smiled back, held the elevator and opened doors.
I knew when I came here at 18, I was never going back. As chance would have it, my husband was born and raised in Bryan, and his family had claimed these parts as home for five whole generations before him. His roots were here, and it was perfectly fitting, as I had every intention of staying planted in the town I had grown to love so much. But, as much as I loved my life in B/CS, I missed my family, and the trips back home were never few and far between.
I read this cute little saying once that said “home is where your mom is,” and I have to say, I wholeheartedly agree. After two grandchildren and years of encouragement, I finally convinced my parents to move to my new hometown. If only I could have convinced the rest of my family as well. Unfortunately, there are only so many grandchildren to go around, and without that trump card, I’ve come to face the facts that I will likely not persuade the rest of my clan to relocate.
Not long ago, my aunts were in town staying for a visit, and I have to say, they also felt a great deal like home. I adore having my family come and stay. It reminds me of my childhood and takes me back to big family gatherings and happy holidays. The family is just special that way. Knowing I couldn’t pull the grandchild trump card on my aunts, I did the next best thing within my persuasive powers to give them a taste of life in Bryan/College Station, Texas — I cooked for them. And, I cooked my little heart out.
I wanted to send them off with a meal that felt as much like home as they did to me. My grandmother (their mother), was well known for her love language of food. She was comfort food all the way, and the scent I can remember most vividly drifting from her kitchen and filling the air was the savory and tempting smell of marinara sauce. So a marinara based dish it would be.
I wanted to make something noteworthy, something that would stand out in their memory bank — stuffed shells seemed like the perfect candidate. Your own personal little shells, just bursting with a perfectly seasoned trio of cheeses and speckled with freshly minced basil. The shells are then covered in marinara and topped with melty Fontina cheese. It is a pasta lovers dream, and perfect for special occasions and homecomings of any kind. If there were a dish that could coax a person to uproot their life and relocate — surely, this is it. Here’s to hoping. Please, enjoy.
THE BEST WAY TO STUFF SHELLS:
I found the easiest way to stuff pasta shells was to ever-so-slightly pinch the ends of a par-cooked shell toward the center, gently forcing it to open up. Then, using a standard sized cookie scoop (holds about 1 1/2 tablespoons), add in the cheese filling and transfer the shell to the casserole dish.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small green bell pepper seeds removed and finely diced
- 1 small yellow onion finely diced
- 3 cloves of garlic minced
- 3 cups 24 ounces low-sodium tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 2 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Pinch red pepper flakes
Add olive oil to a large saucepan over medium heat and allow to come to temperature. Add the bell pepper and onion, and sauté for 5-7 minutes or until softened. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Add the tomato sauce, sugar, salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes to the saucepan and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat and set aside until ready to use.
For the Shells:
3 cups Homemade Marinara Sauce (alternatively, use store-bought marinara)
1 large egg
16 ounces whole milk Ricotta cheese
2 3/4 cup freshly grated Fontina cheese (separated)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh, minced basil
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
12 ounces jumbo shells
Preheat the oven to 350° and have ready a 9×13″ casserole dish with a thin layer of marinara sauce coating the bottom. For the filling, in a small mixing bowl, beat the egg and stir together the Ricotta, 3/4 cup Fontina cheese, Parmesan, basil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Set aside until ready to use. Have ready a large pot of heavily salted, boiling water. Cook the shells for only half the time indicated on the package instructions. Drain well, and set aside until cool enough to handle. See “Best Way to Stuff Shells” above if necessary. Stuff the shells with about 1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons of filling, and place them side-by-side, seam side up across the baking dish. Cover with the remaining marinara sauce and Fontina cheese. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the cheese is hot and bubbly. Serve and enjoy. Serves 8.
- 3 cups Homemade Marinara Sauce alternatively, use store-bought marinara
- 1 large egg
- 16 ounces whole milk Ricotta cheese
- 2 3/4 cup freshly grated Fontina cheese separated
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon fresh minced basil
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 12 ounces jumbo shells
Preheat the oven to 350° and have ready a 9x13" casserole dish with a thin layer of marinara sauce coating the bottom. For the filling, in a small mixing bowl, beat the egg and stir together the Ricotta, 3/4 cup Fontina cheese, Parmesan, basil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Set aside until ready to use. Have ready a large pot of heavily salted, boiling water. Cook the shells for only half the time indicated on the package instructions. Drain well, and set aside until cool enough to handle. See "Best Way to Stuff Shells" above if necessary. Stuff the shells with about 1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons of filling, and place them side-by-side, seam side up across the baking dish. Cover with the remaining marinara sauce and Fontina cheese. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the cheese is hot and bubbly. Serve and enjoy. Serves 8.
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