Make-ahead pasta for a crowd
Photo: Stock
Stuffed Shells

By Tina Wasserman

I’m back! And I hope those of you who attended any of the TE150 Harvest celebrations had a good time.

OK, so I’ve gotten used to Christmas decorations in stores shortly after Halloween and I know that Black Friday is no longer the day after Thanksgiving, but the Friday after Halloween?! Maybe I should start publishing recipes for Pesach? It’s never too early…

Before you know it, it is Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, and guests will be coming to stay — and there are only so many hours that you can devote to cooking when the children and grandchildren are running around the house. Plus, you deserve some time to enjoy their company.

The following recipes can be made in advance and frozen or held in your refrigerator for days. I was going to teach you how to make your own pasta but I will hold off until winter. You’re welcome! 

Baked Pasta with Eggplant and Garlic Sauce

If you like creamy pasta and you like eggplant, you will love this. If you are lactose intolerant (what Ashkenazi Jew isn’t after a certain age?) you will love this too because there is no lactose in butter or Parmesan cheese and you are probably buying Lactaid milk already. Serve with a salad and hot garlic bread and your company will be very happy, I promise.

  • 2 small purple eggplants
  • Kosher salt
  • ½ head of garlic
  • 2 cups milk (whole, 2% and or lactose-free)
  • Big pinch of nutmeg
  • 3 branches of thyme or 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • 8 ounces rigatoni or large ziti

1. Wash the eggplant and cut it into ½-inch cubes. Put the eggplant in a strainer and toss with a generous amount of kosher salt, about 2 tablespoons. Set aside for 30 minutes to drain in the sink.

2. Peel the garlic and chop fairly small. Place in a 1-quart saucepan with the milk, nutmeg and herbs and warm over a low heat. DO NOT BOIL! Remove the bay leaf and whole thyme sprigs, if using.

3. In a 2-quart saucepan, melt the butter and then stir in the flour to make a roux. Cook for a minute over medium heat until the mixture is lightly browned. Pour in the herbed milk and rapidly whisk to combine.

4. Add ½ teaspoon salt and cook over very low heat for 20 minutes, or until sauce is smooth and coats the back of a spoon. Stir in HALF of the cheese. Set aside until needed.

5. Rinse the eggplant and pat dry with a towel.

6. Heat a large skillet or 4-quart pot over high heat for 15 seconds. Add the olive oil and heat for 10 seconds and then add the eggplant cubes and fry for 5 minutes.

7. Add the mushrooms and continue frying for another 10 minutes or until the eggplant is soft and golden. Season with salt and pepper and add to the sauce.

8. Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and rinse.

9. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a 2-quart casserole.

10. Toss pasta with 2/3 of the sauce and place in casserole. Top with the remaining sauce and cheese and bake for 25 minutes if serving right away. Bake for 18 minutes if planning to freeze ahead.

11. If frozen, defrost in refrigerator overnight and then bake at 350 degrees until a knife inserted into the middle of the casserole is hot to the touch.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • Basically, you have created a bechamel or white sauce, making a roux (mixture of flour and butter) and then adding milk to it.
  • You might want to add a sprinkling of fresh cheese over the casserole before reheating and you might consider microwaving the casserole to reheat if it is not cold.
  • Pasta can get rubbery if reheated for too long in the microwave.
  • For a richer mushroom flavor you might want to add some soaked dried porcini to the mix. 

Stuffed Jumbo Shells with Tomato Sauce

As a child I watched my father try to stuff manicotti shells with his hands, a messy proposition that left a lasting memory for me. When giant pasta shells came on the market it was so much easier to stuff them that I actually taught this recipe to my seventh grade home economics classes. Easy to make and delicious. Cook them less than the recipe calls for and then freeze when they are cool right in the baking dish.

The Sauce:

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 28-ounce can recipe-ready tomatoes
  • 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1 teaspoon or more sugar to taste

The Shells:

  • 1 box jumbo pasta shells
  • 2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach
  • 1 pound ricotta
  • ¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for topping
  • ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg

1. To make the sauce, sauté the garlic and onion until lightly golden.

2. Add the remaining sauce ingredients and simmer uncovered for 20-30 minutes or until it is a thick sauce consistency.

3. Cook the jumbo shells according to package directions. Drain and pour cold water over the shells. Let them sit while you make the filling.

4. Thoroughly thaw the spinach and squeeze out all of the liquid. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.

5. Holding a drained shell in your left hand, squeeze the shell open slightly and place a heaping tablespoon of the filling in the shell. Close the shell over the filling and place it in a 13×9-inch baking dish that has been spread with some of the sauce. When all the shells are filled pour the remaining sauce on top, sprinkle with extra Parmesan cheese and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees or until bubbling.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • Sugar is often added to tomato sauce to counteract any bitterness that might be present from the seeds.
  • Mixtures that contain egg should be partially or wholly cooked before freezing. Eggs are a binding agent, but if frozen raw they will not hold the ingredients together and mixture will be watery.
  • A touch of nutmeg should always be added to cheese mixtures to enhance the flavor. 

Marinara Sauce with Artichokes and Olives

I saved the easiest for last! A good-quality marinara sauce that is closer to a Puttanesca sauce, this can be made in advance, refrigerated for a few days or frozen and then reheated and served with pasta.

  • ¼ cup Italian extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 bottled pepperoncini, drained and finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 28 ounce can recipe-ready crushed tomatoes
  • 2 6-ounce jars marinated artichoke hearts, drained and cut in half lengthwise
  • ½ cup Calamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • 12 ounces mostaccioli or rotelli

1. Heat a 4-quart pot over high heat for 15 seconds. Add the olive oil and heat for 10 seconds. Reduce heat to medium and sauté the garlic and onion for 3 minutes. DO NOT BURN THE GARLIC! Add the pepperoncini and cook until the onion is softened and translucent.

2. Add the wine and cook for 3-5 minutes or until the wine is reduced almost completely.

3. Add the canned tomatoes and cook for 20 minutes.

4. Stir in the artichokes and olives and simmer for 5 minutes more.

5. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and serve with sauce.

Serves 4-6 as a side dish

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • If bottled olive oil says “product of Italy” it means they used only Italian olives to make the oil, as opposed to “produced in Italy” which means they used different oils from different countries mixed together.
  • This sauce can be made into a meat sauce. First sauté the meat and remove to a bowl. Drain well and then proceed with step 1. Add the meat and/or sliced, cooked, kosher Italian sausage in step 4 and cook until hot.
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