Stuffed Jumbo Shells with Caramelized Onions and Leeks, Goat Cheese and Savoy Cabbage
Photo by Michael Piazza / Styled by Catrine Kelty
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano and creamy crème fraîche come together to make an easy pour-over sauce for these sweet-and-savory stuffed shells. You could make this ahead and serve it as a vegetarian main course at your holiday table. If you like a little crunch, chopped roasted walnuts or pecans—or even toasted breadcrumbs—sprinkled over the finished dish are a nice addition.
Extra-virgin olive oil
6 onions, thinly sliced
2 fat leeks, well-cleaned and white parts thinly sliced (save the greens for stock!)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pinch sugar
1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
2–3 sprigs fresh thyme plus 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
1 splash white wine vinegar
1 large head Savoy cabbage, cored and sliced
1 package dried jumbo pasta shells
1 container crème fraîche
1 (4-ounce) tube fresh goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
In a large saucepan, heat 2–3 tablespoons olive oil and add the onions and leeks. Season with salt and pepper, add the pinch of sugar, thyme sprigs and bay leaf, and cook, stirring, until softened and beginning to brown. Stir in the garlic and vinegar and continue to cook over low heat until deeply browned and caramelized, stirring frequently, another 20–25 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, in another skillet, heat 2–3 more tablespoons oil and add the sliced cabbage. Season with salt and pepper and toss to wilt, cooking down slowly until bright green and limp. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the jumbo shells. Cook according to the package instructions, removing the shells to drain just on the edge of al dente; reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Rinse the shells under cold water to stop their cooking and prevent them sticking, then allow them to cool in the strainer until cool enough to handle.
Use 1–2 tablespoons olive oil to grease the inside of a 9- by 13-inch oven-safe/freezer-safe casserole dish, then spread a few pinches of the caramelized onions over the bottom. Set up an assembly line on the counter with the cooked shells, onion mixture, cabbage and crumbled goat cheese. Stuff each shell with a bit of each ingredient, then nestle them side by side in the dish.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the crème fraîche, ½ cup of Parmigiano Reggiano, ½ cup reserved pasta cooking water. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir in half the thyme leaves. Pour the mixture over the stuffed shells evenly to cover, then sprinkle with the remaining thyme leaves and Parmigiano Reggiano.
From here, you can either bake the dish straightaway in a preheated 350° oven for about 30–35 minutes, or until bubbly. Or you can allow the dish to cool completely at room temperature, then wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and foil over the top (or a lid, if your container has one), and freeze for up to 3 months. To serve, remove from the freezer and allow to thaw in the fridge, then bake in a 350° oven for 30–35 minutes or until bubbly. (If you want to bake it from the frozen state, add about an hour to the cooking time.)
This story appeared in the Fall 2016 issue.