"Sometimes I pray to Cod for the veal-power to stop playing with my food-words, but I fear it's too bread into me. For all I know, the wurst may be yet to come."
~Mark Morton (Gastromica '06)
When I was a kid, cheese-stuffed shells were a go-to recipe in my family. If it wasn't a holiday and family was visiting, you can bet we had stuffed shells. You can make them ahead, they freeze well, AND they're delicious. Perfect for my working mom.
The first time I had the veal-stuffed variety was over 20 years ago when my sister-in-law Joy made them for us. I've never forgotten about it and have been meaning to make the dish for years. I mean, you know something is good if you're still thinking about it 20 years later. I have her recipe somewhere, but couldn't find it, so I located one by Emiril Lagasse and played with it a little until it was sort-of as remembered. This time I made it for my sister-in-law and she (and everyone else) enthusiastically approved. They were an all-around hit. The great thing was making them the day ahead, storing them in the fridge for 24 hours, and then just popping them in the oven the night of the dinner-party (since I worked all day). For that reason alone, it's a great recipe for the busy holiday season.
Veal Stuffed Jumbo Shells with Mushroom-Parmesan Bechamel
Inspired by Joy Murphy and adapted from a recipe by Emeril Lagasse.
24 jumbo shells, about 1/2 pound
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground pork
1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 large egg
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 teaspoon fresh)
1/2 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese
Start a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Season with salt and when it comes to a rolling boil, add dried shells. Cook until pliable, but not fully cooked, about 8 minutes. Remove the shells from the water and place shells in a single layer on a sheet pan.
While the shells cool, make the stuffing. Set a large saute pan over medium heat and add the olive oil to the pan. Add the onions and garlic and cook about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. In a medium bowl, combine the veal, pork, seasonings, bread crumbs, cheese, cooked onions and garlic, heavy cream and egg. Do not over-mix.
Grease 13x9 inch baking dish. Place 2 tablespoons of the stuffing mix into each of the jumbo shells and place open side down in baking dish. When completed, wrap the casserole with plastic wrap and set aside in fridge while you prepare the bechamel.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Set a one or two-quart saucepan over medium-high heat and add the butter. Once melted, add the mushrooms and thyme. Cook, stirring often, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle flour into the pan, stirring to combine and cook the roux, stirring, for 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and wine. Season with salt and pepper. Bring bechamel to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, stirring until sauce is thickened, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in 3/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese and pour over the shells in the baking dish. Sprinkle remaining 3/4 cup Parmesan over the top of the sauce. Cover dish with tin foil. Bake, covered for 25 minutes, then uncover and bake 20 minutes more until bubbling and browned.
If you are baking shells that have been stored in the fridge overnight, bake covered for 45 minutes, then uncover an continue baking another 20 minutes until bubbling and browned.