23 April 2010

Fingerfood Pasta Shells

Yesterday, I made a big pot of meat ragu. I hesitate calling it a bolognese sauce, as its main ingredient hailed from much further North, namely from Thuringia in Eastern Germany. You see, I asked my butcher to sell me the meat of my favourite sausages - sans casing or eggs - for my sauce, a Thuringian Bratwurst. I sweated off a few onions, added the meat, and simmered it for a good long while with a generous swig or two of Gew├╝rztraminer and a few skinned, de-seeded and chopped tomatoes. The sausage meat provided most of the seasoning. Its ingredients are a closely kept secret but my feeling is that the seasoning consists of caraway seeds, marjoram and coriander, possibly a little paprika. I added some chilli flakes as I like it hot.

Having recently eaten lasagna on more than one occasion, I was thinking about other ways of using up the remaining sauce when I went shopping this morning and came across a pasta shape clearly asking to be filled, namely a very large shell shape, conchiglioni caserecci. I cooked the pasta as usual until al dente, drained it and refreshed with cold water, since they were to endure further cooking. I greased an oven-proof dish with olive oil, filled it with pasta shapes and filled each one in turn with a good spoonful of meat sauce.

Keep the sides apart with two fingers to spoon in the meat sauce with the other hand - or take pictures but unfortunately not both ;)

It's important that the filling is not too liquid, or the pasta will go soggy. Top each shell with a small piece of mozzarella - if you are wondering about quantities, I would say you need a similar amount of both pasta and mozzarella.

Cook in a hot oven (200 C) until the cheese is slightly browned. I think it is best served luke warm, so that you can eat it with your fingers. The top of the pasta shell will be crispy, whereas the rest stays soft and malleable, and it is this combination of textures which makes the dish interesting. Melted mozzarella closes the shell so that it keeps its shape and can be daintily eaten as fingerfood.

It might not be the most elegant dish you've ever seen but the taste is more than convincing. Children love it, as do I! I'd happily serve it as a warm starter for an alfresco dinner. Especially since you can prepare it in advance (I have a second dish waiting in the fridge for later use), and it takes very little time and effort, this would make an ideal party dish. And not only for us carnivores - I can imagine all kinds of different fillings, I might, for instance, try fresh herbs, ricotta and green asparagus next time.

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