Thursday, February 24, 2011

Stuffed Conchiglioni

Many years ago, in the early 1990's, I worked as an adult literacy teacher in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne.. Airport West, to be exact. And as is often the case in my life, the focus of the class morphed from reading and writing, to food... or reading and writing through food. The class was made up of middle-aged Greek and Italian migrants who had been retrenched for the clothing, textile and footwear factories... something to do with Mr Keating's new world order. I had one student, Pasquale, younger than my other students and originally from Calabria whose pre-occupation with food paled my own.
Pasquale would bring to class fresh bread his wife had made that morning in their wood fired oven, salami made from pigs he had hand fed and slaughtered, omelettes made with yolks only and streaked with finely grated carrot and he ate everything with birds eye chillies. One day he brought in a plate of conchliglioni (giant pasta shells) stuffed with ricotta and spinach, and a seemingly simple tomato sauce that tasted amazing... and he explained to me how to make the dish...
Tip: I search high and low for these shells, and have been known to carry them in my hand luggage from distant locations. (If you cannot find them, you could use cannelloni, or some large spiral pasta.)

200 - 250 gms Conchiglioni shells
300 gm Ricotta
Bunch Spinach
1 egg
Parmesan Cheese
Nutmeg (optional)
2-3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic
500gm fresh, ripe Roma tomatoes (or 2 tins)
1/2 bottle of tomato puree (salt and tomato only in ingredients)
Small piece of pork on the bone (raw)
Fresh basil
Salt & Pepper

Method Sauce
  1. Saute chopped onion and garlic in olive oil in a large pot until soft.
  2. Add fresh tomatoes and cook down.
  3. Add tomato puree and pork bone and about a half litre of water.
  4. Bring to simmer, and continue to cook for around one hour.
  5. Strain sauce through a fine strainer, making sure you get as much of the pulp as possible.
Method Conchiglione
  1. Clean and trip spinach and cook briefly in large pot.
  2. Strain, and when cool chop finely.
  3. Place in mixing bowl with Ricotta, chopped parsley, egg and grated parmesan, and mix through. (Optional: add sauteed onions and garlic for more flavour.)
  4. 4. Taste, and add pepper, salt, grated nutmeg or more parmesan to your taste.
  5. Put aside.
  6. At the same time, bring a large pot filled with salted water to the boil.
  7. Add the pasta, and cook for half the allocated time on the packet.
  8. Strain, and return to a bowl with cool salted water.
Method: Assembly
  1. Place around a desertspoon of filling in each shell and place in overproof baking tray, facing upward.
  2. Continue with the rest of the shells and filling.
  3. Pour over sauce, fresh basil and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and a good dribble of olive oil.
  4. Cover with alfoil and bake in medium to hot over for 20 minutes, then remove alfoil and continue cooking for around 10 to 15 minutes until the top is brown.
  5. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving with extra parmesan.