A craving struck like a lightning bolt: It was Sunday evening, and I had to have stuffed shells. It was too late for me to get to the store, buy the ingredients and make them myself. I texted people who I thought might know where to get it locally. I dove deep on delivery apps. There were no stuffed shells anywhere. (An outrage.)
Cravings are complex and highly personal, born of both nature and nurture, driven by neurons and doused with dopamine. The dishes below are a few of mine.
Of all the baked pasta dishes, stuffed shells are beloved for good reason: The fluffy ricotta filling, punchy tomato sauce, melted cheese and oversize noodles creates the ultimate comfort food, and the make-ahead aspect is equally compelling. The tomato sauce can be made and refrigerated five days ahead, or you can save time by swapping in three cups of your favorite store-bought marinara sauce. The shells can be assembled a few hours ahead, then baked from the refrigerator an hour before it’s time to eat. While some versions add frozen spinach, herbs or lemon, you really don’t need anything beyond the basics; this classic version is pure comfort.
By Ali Slagle
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Total time: About 2 hours
For the sauce:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can tomato purée
For the filling and assembly:
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 pound fresh ricotta (about 2 cups)
10 ounces fresh mozzarella, grated (about 2 1/2 cups)
5 1/2 ounces Parmesan, finely grated (about 2 cups)
2 egg yolks
1 garlic clove
12 ounces jumbo shells
1. Make the sauce: In a large Dutch oven or pot, heat the olive oil over medium. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, until the paste turns one shade darker, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato purée, season with salt, then bring to a simmer. Cover halfway to reduce splattering, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened slightly, 20 to 30 minutes.
2. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
3. Make the filling: In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta with 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, 1 cup Parmesan and the egg yolks. Grate the garlic directly into the bowl, then season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir to combine, then set aside.
4. Add the shells to the boiling water and cook until just shy of al dente. (You’ll want to cook the shells about 2 minutes less than the minimum time listed on the package, as the shells will continue to cook in the oven in Step 5.) Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water, then drain the pasta and rinse it under cold water to cool. Count out 24 shells. (You will have cooked off more shells than will fit in the dish; that’s insurance in case any rip. Reserve extras for another use.)
5. Stir the pasta water into the sauce, then add half the sauce to a 3-quart/9-by-13-inch baking dish and spread it in an even layer. Spoon about 2 tablespoons filling into each of the 24 shells, lining up the stuffed shells in the dish as you go. Spoon the remaining sauce over the shells, then sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella and 1 cup Parmesan.
6. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake, uncovered, until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes. (If you’d like to brown the cheese, you can broil for a few minutes.) Let sit 5 minutes, then serve.
Roasted Chicken With Crispy Mushrooms
The sherry in this easy sheet-pan recipe makes it feel a little like chicken Marsala. But roasting everything on a sheet pan lets the mushrooms crisp at the edges and turns the chicken thighs golden brown. It’s slightly more sophisticated than your average weeknight chicken dinner, but still speedy and fuss-free. Serve it with rice or noodles to soak up all the buttery, winy pan juices.
By Melissa Clark
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 45 minutes
2 to 2 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal) and freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, plus 3 thyme sprigs
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
12 ounces mushrooms (about 7 cups), such as oyster, maitake, shiitake or cremini, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 small red onion, cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon (or marjoram or sage), plus more for garnish if you like
1 tablespoon dry (fino) sherry or dry vermouth (or 1/2 tablespoon lime juice and 1/2 tablespoon orange juice)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
Flaky salt, for serving
1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. On a large, rimmed sheet pan, season chicken all over with 1 1/4 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Rub garlic, thyme leaves and 1 tablespoon oil on chicken. Let stand at room temperature while you prepare the other ingredients.
2. In a large bowl, combine mushrooms, onion wedges, tarragon, thyme sprigs and a large pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Toss with remaining 2 tablespoons oil until well coated.
3. Spoon mushroom mixture around chicken. Roast until chicken is cooked through, and the mushrooms and onions are golden brown and crispy, 30 to 40 minutes.
4. Using a slotted spoon, immediately transfer chicken, onions and mushrooms to a serving platter.
5. While the sheet pan is still very hot, add the sherry. Deglaze the pan by gently swirling the sherry and using a wooden spoon to scrape up any brown bits stuck to the bottom. Stir in butter. (If you have a mini whisk, use it to whisk in the butter, otherwise a spoon is fine.) Pour pan sauce on top of chicken, onions and mushrooms, and serve sprinkled with flaky salt on top and more tarragon if you like.
Soy-Braised Tofu With Bok Choy
This Chinese-style braised tofu is an ideal midweek dinner over rice or noodles. Shallow frying the tofu first makes it sturdier and prevents it from breaking apart in the sauce. (You could also deep-fry or use an air fryer.) Cutting the tofu into thicker pieces means that each mouthful is crisp yet plump, with a soft interior. This is an adaptable dish; when adding the bell peppers, you could add more vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, snow peas or whatever you have on hand. Those familiar with restaurant-style braised tofu may expect more sauce, but in this homestyle version, the seasoning sauce delicately coats the tofu and vegetables without drowning them. That said, double the sauce if you prefer.
By Hetty McKinnon
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 20 minutes
For the tofu:
1 (14-ounce) package extra-firm tofu, drained and patted dry
Neutral oil, such as grapeseed or vegetable
Salt and black pepper
1 tablespoon doubanjiang or chile oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
4 scallions, trimmed, white and green parts separated and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 bell pepper (any color), stem and membrane removed, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 teaspoons Shaoxing wine (optional)
4 baby bok choy, trimmed and halved through the stem
Cooked rice or noodles, for serving
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon vegetarian stir-fry sauce or oyster sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1. Cut tofu across into 3/4-inch-thick slices, then cut each slice in half so you have roughly 12 squares.
2. Heat a large (12-inch), deep-sided nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet on medium-high. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of oil and swirl to coat the base. Place the tofu in a single layer, season each piece with a little salt and black pepper, and fry for 3 to 4 minutes until golden and crispy. Flip and cook on the other side for 3 to 4 minutes more, adding more oil if needed. Remove tofu from the skillet and set aside on a plate.
3. Make the sauce: Combine the soy sauce, vegetarian stir-fry sauce or oyster sauce, cornstarch and sugar with 1/3 cup of water. Whisk until smooth.
4. In the same skillet over medium heat, add the doubanjiang or chile oil (if you’re using doubanjiang, add about 1 teaspoon of neutral oil) and stir for 15 seconds. Add the garlic, ginger and white parts of the scallion, and toss for 1 to 2 minutes, until the scallions are softened and everything is fragrant. If the pan starts to look dry, add a drop of oil.
5. Add the bell pepper and Shaoxing wine, if using, and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes until slightly softened. Pour in the seasoning sauce and let it sizzle for 30 seconds, stirring once or twice.
6. Add the baby bok choy, tofu and green parts of the scallion; toss gently to coat the tofu. Let it simmer on low heat for 1 to 2 minutes until the sauce thickens, the baby bok choy is wilted but still green and crisp-tender, and the tofu has absorbed some of the sauce. Serve with rice or noodles. — NYT