I’ve never met a pasta I didn’t like. But making pasta for one is difficult, since pasta is sold in large boxes intended to feed small armies. Not to be deterred from enjoying this delicious comfort food, I am always trying to find ways to make pasta for one, without wasting a single noodle.
This is how I turned an entire box of pasta shells into individual meals for me, with enough cheese-stuffed pasta shells left over to share with my single girl friends.
Start by boiling one box of jumbo pasta shells (about 40 shells). If your package directions has a “pre-bake” time suggestion, boil them for that amount of time. If it doesn’t, boil them for half the cooking time on the box’s direction. They’ll finish cooking in the sauce when they bake later, so you want them slightly underdone, but pliable enough to fill without breaking.
While the pasta is cooking, grate all the cheeses. (Well, except for the ricotta. You don’t have to grate that. Unless you want to, and then send me pics so I can have a good laugh.) You can really use any cheeses you like, or that you have on hand. For this example, I used three traditional cheeses, (Parmesan, Romano, and mozzarella), and some cheddar. I like the color the cheddar adds to the top of the finished dish.
Let me just take a moment to look at that picture. All that glorious cheese. I love cheese. I could just dig in right now. But I will attempt to control myself…for now.
A note about cheeses: I buy my cheese in block form, not the pre-shredded bags. In the pre-shredded bag variety, the cheese is coated with cellulose to keep it from sticking together and forming one giant shredded cheese lump. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any “extra” ingredients in my ingredients. Also, I’ve found that the pre-shredded, cellulose-coated cheese don’t melt as well as the block shred-yourself varieties. So, I just take a deep breath, put on my big-girl panties, and grate the cheese by hand. (Plus, it’s cheaper that way. And I’m cheap. Er, I mean, I’m frugal.)
Mix together the ricotta cheese, Romano cheese, 3/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese, 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese, egg, salt, and pepper. (Reserve remaining mozzarella cheese, remaining Parmesan cheese, and cheddar cheese for topping.) If you want to add any Italian herbs into the cheese mixture, this would be the time to do it. Also – don’t be tempted to add more salt. The cheese has a lot of natural salty taste, so you really don’t need that much extra.
Place about 2 teaspoons of sauce into the bottom of each of 10 individual serving dishes. Then, spread it around so the sauce thinly coats the bottom of the dish.
Fill each shell with a tablespoon of filling. Place four stuffed shells in each dish. The box says a serving size is five shells. But I’ve found that five is too many. Four is the perfect amount for me.
Cover each shell with a generous teaspoon of sauce, and spread it around a bit so it falls over the sides.
Mix the remaining cheeses together. Then distribute the cheese evenly over each dish.
Spray pieces of aluminum foil with a little bit of non-stick spray. Then cover each dish with foil.
If you’re going to freeze any, place the covered dishes on a baking sheet (to keep them from spilling over) and put them in the freezer. When they’re frozen, you can remove the baking sheet and stack the frozen dishes.
The beauty of this recipe and method is that it makes 10 individual meals. So, you can keep a few for your own freezer, and give the rest to friends to fill their freezers. Yes, that’s right, I’m the kind of person who buys my friends’ friendship with food.
Just kidding. I only use it to bribe them.
If you’re going to cook one right away, place the covered dish on a parchment or foil lined baking sheet and place in a 350 degree oven. Cook covered for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and cook uncovered an additional 12-15 minutes until the cheese topping is melting and gooey and starting to brown. (If the dish is frozen when it goes into the oven, cook for 45 minutes before removing the foil, then cook an additional 15-20 minutes until it’s hot and bubbly.)
Now here’s the REALLY hard part: Let the dish cool 5-10 minutes before digging in.
Here’s the complete recipe. Enjoy!
1 Box (approximately 40) jumbo pasta shells
2 jars favorite pasta sauce
2 15-oz containers of ricotta cheese
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded Romano cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1) Boil pasta shells for the “pre-bake” time on the package. If there’s no “pre-bake” time given, boil shells for half the time listed on the package. Drain pasta and rinse with cool water.
2) While pasta is cooking, grate cheeses. Then mix together ricotta cheese, Romano cheese, ¾ cup Parmesan cheese, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, egg, salt, and pepper. (Reserve remaining mozzarella cheese, remaining Parmesan cheese, and cheddar cheese for topping.)
3) Place approximately two teaspoons of pasta sauce in the bottom of each of 10 individual serving dishes.
4) Fill each shell with 1 tablespoon of cheese filling. Place four filled shells into each dish.
5) Cover each shell with another generous teaspoon or so of sauce.
6) Mix remaining cheese together. Top each dish with cheese, evenly distributing cheese among all 10 dishes.
7) Spray pieces of aluminum foil with non-stick cooking spray.
8) Cover each dish with foil. If you’re going to freeze them, place on a cookie sheet and into the freezer until they’re frozen. Once frozen, you can remove the cookie sheet and stack the frozen pasta dishes.
9) If you’re going to cook right away, place covered dish on a baking sheet and place into a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil cover and continue to cook uncovered another 12-15 minutes, until cheese is melted and golden brown. Let cool 5-10 minutes before eating.