I’m thoroughly fatigued. When I squint, my eyes feel sore. I am reassuringly, duck-feather cushioned on the sofa at home with my feet up, blanket thrown on my legs and scented candles are flickering whilst gentle aromas of sandalwood fill my head. The fire sizzles as the flames dance and lull me to sleep, or very nearly. That glowing pulse of the wood and coal always does it for me.
Its 3pm and the sensory treat of golden, orange and red colours and fragrances are a rare treat, before a 4pm meeting.
It’s worth it though, we had fabulous company for dinner last night and we laughed and chattered until the early hours. Unfortunately for them it’s a school night and they work in the city. Oops.
So yesterday, I had some energy for meal-making, but that’s purely from the love of doing it, rather than my physical levels of get-up-and-go. But you know me, I am not one for serving up a jacket-spuds, or fajita’s (I read that under a dinner party section of a food website!) Some of the conversation at dinner, should revolve around the food, right? And some of the fun of it all is in the food…correct?
Luckily, I keep a few back-pocket recipes for easy meals that can form part of a casual meal that’s more than a lasagne (again). This is a recipe which I sometimes pull out because it looks like a lot of effort (I like to flatter guests) but really isn’t…and most importantly, it tastes gorgeous. You can’t go wrong with huge pasta shells with a good stuffing in them. Don’t worry about aubergine sensitive people, I have found that even they love it! Win-win.
I’ve bulk-made this one for parties, small and large get-togethers and the brilliance is that you can cook ahead the components and assemble it all at the last moment. Pull it out during this festive period and kick back…
25-30 conchiglioni shells
A good couple of handfuls of your favourite hard cheese (I used mature cheddar infused with pickled onions and mixed herbs)
For the stuffing
A large red onion, thinly sliced and shallow fried
3 medium sized aubergines
A 250g tub of Ricotta cheese
The spices; salt to taste, 1 ½ tsp. curry powder, 1 ½ tsp. smoked paprika, 1 tsp. cumin seeds, ½ tsp. garam masala
For the sauce
2 tins of plum tomatoes
2-3 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
A handful of freshly chopped basil
1 tsp. sugar
The spices; ½ tsp. black pepper, salt to taste, 2 tsp. paprika
Method for the stuffing
- Lightly grease, stab and then roast the aubergines in a hot oven (pre-heated to aprox 180 degrees), until they blister and shrivel. This should take about 40minutes.
- Allow the aubergines to cool, before skinning them and remove the pulp. Smooth it out with a knife to given an even consistency
- Blend the red onion to a puree. When you add this to the stuffing it will infiltrate a lovely sweetness that will help to lift the aubergine.
- Heat a deep pan with a couple of tablespoons of oil and then add the cumin seeds and allow them to sizzle. Then add the curry powder, paprika and allow them to infuse into the oil for about a minute. Don’t allow the spices to brown, they should just glow orange and red.
- Add the aubergine pulp and the salt, garam masala and mix through thoroughly. Stir in the sweet red onion and mix again.
- Let the mixture cool to a room temperature whilst you prepare the rest of it
Boil the conchiglioni until el-dente and in the meanwhile, turn your attention to the sauce. When the pasta is el-dente, drain and leave it to a side.
Method for the Tomato Sauce
- Heat two tablespoons of oil and then add the chopped garlic and the paprika and allow the garlic to soften for a couple of minutes on a medium heat
- Mix in the chopped tomatoes and the salt and simmer
- Stir in the sugar and the black pepper
- Reduce the sauce for 4-5 minutes before adding the chopped basil.
when you are ready for assembly, add the ricotta cheese into the aubergine stuffing and mix it through thoroughly.
It couldn’t get an easier.
- Pour the sauce evenly between your oven dishes
- Take a teaspoon, stuff the pasta shells with the aubergine stuffing and place into the tomato sauce
- Top the trays with cheese
- Bake in the oven for about 7-8 minutes at 180degrees, or until the pasta is soft enogh to pierce through with a knife
See…I told you it was easy!