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Joe’s Tomato Sauce II

June 15, 2014

Joe’s tomato sauce is perfect plain with pasta, but I use it in other dishes as well. Here are two.

Stuffed shells

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The stuffed shells are a favorite of the grandgirls.

Pasta.  1 12 or 16 oz. package jumbo shells (I like R&F brand, Barilla are good, the H.E.B. house brand is good)

Tomato sauce. I use Joe’s Sauce. Use a 24 oz. jar store-bought if you wish. I like varieties with lots basil and garlic. “Mom’s” is especially good.

Filling:

2 lbs. ricotta cheese

2 cups grated dry cheese (parmesan, asiago…)

1 cup shredded mozzarella

1/2 cup+ chopped curly parsley

2 eggs

2 packages frozen chopped spinach

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1/2 tsp.+/- each: nutmeg, salt, black pepper, sugar

Prepare the filling: Thaw the spinach, drain, squeeze all the water out that you can. Mix all the ingredients together, adding the eggs last. The filling should be somewhat stiff. If not, add more cheese.

Prepare the pasta according to the package directions, drain, rinse, and mix with a little olive oil. Be careful as you cook them to avoid breaking the shells. The package contains 39 or 40 shells, and there’s enough filling for 36 plump shells.

Assemble the shells. Use a 9×12 glass pan. Cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Stuff the shells with the filling (fingers or a teaspoon are best) and nestle the shells in the pan. You may need a second, smaller pan. When the pan is full, (*) cover generously with more tomato sauce, dust with more cheese (dry or mozzarella or both), cover with foil, and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or so, until the sauce bubbles. Serve with more grated cheese.

(*) Stop here if you want to prepare this a day ahead, or if you want to freeze the casserole. If you do freeze it, thaw it completely before continuing.

Chicken Cacciatore

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This is my favorite Chicken Cacciatore recipe. It’s not traditional Cacciatore. It differs in a few ways. First, the chicken in this recipe is braised in the sauce, not breaded, sautéed, and then finished in the sauce. That makes it less messy to prepare. Then, this recipe is loaded with vegetables – also not entirely traditional, but very satisfying.

Tomato sauce. I use Joe’s sauce. Store-bought is okay. See my comments above.

Last time I made this, I used a package of organic skinned and boned thighs. I seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper, placed in it a baking dish along with a little olive oil and about 1/2 cup of the sauce, covered it and braised it for about 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven. This will pull some of the juice out of the chicken. After 15 minutes, remove the chicken and discard the drippings.

Vegetables and finish. Chop coarsely 2 stalks of celery, 2 peeled carrots, 1/2 sweet onion, and soften them in olive oil in a heavy skillet. This will take 10-15 minutes. In Italian cooking, this combination is known as soffrito. It’s an aromatic flavor base for soups and stews and is found in many cuisines where it has different names: mirepoix in French, holy trinity in Cajun and Creole, Suppengrün in German, and włoszczyzna (loosely, “Italian stuff) in Poland.

When the soffrito is ready, add the rest of the sauce and a good handful (1/2-3/4 cup) of white raisins. This is also not traditional in Cacciatore, but I like the sweetness that it adds to the dish. Once the sauce comes to a simmer, add the chicken pieces and continue to simmer slowly until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes. I had a link of sweet Italian sausage in the fridge left over from grilling a couple days earlier, and I sliced it diagonally into 1/2 inch pieces and tossed those in with the chicken.

I served this with fresh egg-rich  tagliliatelle from Central Market and dusted it with grated cheese.

There are  “hunter’s stews” in the cuisines of many cultures. A favorite is bigos, the Polish hunter’s stew, prepared with various meats, kielbasa, sauerkraut, tomatoes, white cabbage, and peppercorns. Look for a post down the way, when the weather gets cooler.

Joe

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