stuffed shells to the rescue…

…I’m scrambling to tighten up after vacation.

I admit it, I’m whipped and totally exhausted. I knew I’d pay for it – I always do. But I can hear Sous Chef whispering, “worth it!”

I’m not exactly sure what went on in my kitchen while I was away; the evidence has vanished. My cat, who I will address in future posts, is still giving me the stink eye and I remain unforgiven. We are on day 5 of re-entry and my giant suitcase still sits open and mostly unpacked next to an unmade bed. Nothing in life is free, which is probably why I never went on any “girls trips” until quite recently. Why I picked a global pandemic to overcome my mother-guilt and fear of flying (read: control issues) is beyond me.

you pays your money and you takes your chances.

But even after completely unplugging for perhaps the first time in my adult life, I was ready to hit the kitchen the moment I walked in the door. After all, everybody needed a home-cooked meal after two weeks, right? It would be heroic of me had it come from some sense of familial duty, although some would call that stupid. And it would be stupid of me to call it pity, because the freezer was stocked with my homemade meals. And pitiful to think I was being heroic, because it’s only food, just sustenance. I really just like to cook – after a day of trains, planes and automobiles I wanted to be creative. But lazy creative.

On Monday I landed at 3:00pm, was on MARTA by 3:30, and home by 4:30. After a flurry of warm greetings, a quick photo download and gift distribution to Husband, I sheepishly wandered into the kitchen. I retrieved a hidden box of Barilla giant shells and a jar of Rao’s from the pantry, relieved the fridge of all the little bites of Italian cheeses and considered my assets. I was good to go.

Note: I have a habit of stocking up for a rainy day with items that can elevate simple meals with a punch of flavor. The downside to this hoarding is a sagging shelf jammed with olives, capers, roasted red peppers, anchovies, chutneys and cornichons. The cheese drawer is worse. Far worse. But the rotter is hopeless.

Daddy always says you have to dance with the one who brung ya.

So while this meal doesn’t technically qualify as “from scratch,” it became more than I ever expected. I added some ringers to push it from 60% yum to near 85%: mascarpone cheese, sweet Italian sausage, and parmigiano reggiano. Honorable mention goes to good jarred sauce.

Stuffed Shells with Italian Sausage

top with remaining sauce, mozzarella and parmigiano reggiano


  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 pound Italian sausage
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup roasted red peppers, drained and diced
  • 1 jar of reasonably good sauce, like Rao’s
  • 12 oz. (ish) giant pasta shells
  • 15 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 8 oz. mascarpone cheese
  • 1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • any bits of Italian cheeses that need re-homing
  • 4 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped
  • salt & pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 400°.

Bring salted water to boil and cook dried shells for about 10 minutes. Drain. And set aside.

Heat olive oil in large skillet and sauté diced onion for 5 minutes on medium-high heat. When softened and beginning to brown, crumble sausage and cook about 5 minutes. Use a firm spatula to chop up the larger pieces. Add roasted red peppers, jarred sauce and salt & pepper to taste. Reduce to simmer while you work on the cheeses.

In a large bowl mix the ricotta, mascarpone, 1/2 of the parmigiano reggiano, 1/2 of the mozzarella and the fresh parsley.

Stuff the cooled and drained shells with about 2 Tbs each of the cheese mixture. I think I ended up with 26 stuffed shells.

Ladle 1/2 of the meat sauce into a 9” X 13” baking pan or lasagna dish. Arrange stuffed shells on top and cover with remaining sauce, followed by the rest of the mozzarella and parmigiano reggiano. Cover with foil and bake about 25 minutes.

re-entry week:

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