**Sorry for the delay on this–wanted to make sure it was just right since this is such a special family recipe. Enjoy! 😀
In our house we’ve always done two Thanksgivings- an Italian meal made by my dad because his family always celebrated with Italian food, and the traditional American Turkey dinner. I know, I’m pretty spoiled! This year Dad and I decided to make one of our favorites, stuffed shells with Spinach and four cheeses, and his staple turkey meatballs (how fitting for Turkey Day!). And everything was covered in his famous Pomodoro sauce of course.
We generally don’t eat dessert with our Italian Thanksgiving since there is so much delicious food, but since this was the first year I was home to spend Thanksgiving with my family in so many years I wanted to make them a special Italian treat- Limoncello Mascarpone ice cream with vanilla cakelets filled with raspberry cream. It was the perfect end to our Italian feast!
Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells (Difficulty-Intermediate; Serves: 6-8)
1 lb. large organic imported pasta shells
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 lb. organic baby spinach
2 large organic eggs, room temperature and gently scrambled
8 oz. Polly-O ricotta cheese (according to Dad, it MUST be Polly-O!)
4 oz. Polly-O fresh mozarella cheese
3/4 cup, plus more for topping, pecorino romano and parmesan cheese blend from Trader Joes
1 tsp. organic lemon zest
seasoned pepper, salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Don’s Pomodoro sauce (recipe below)
Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add spinach one pound at a time until cooked. Be sure to salt and pepper the spinach as you go. Pour cooked spinach into a colander and drain ALL liquid. This is one of the most important steps so that there is no excess liquid in the stuffing mixture. Once the spinach is drained add to a large mixing bowl. Add the ricotta and eggs to the spinach and mix well. Grate half of the mozarella cheese into the bowl and add the 3/4 cup of romano parmesan blend. Season with seasoned pepper, coarsely ground sea salt, and ground black pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook shells for about 5 minutes. They will still be very firm, but they will finish cooking in the oven. Make sure not to overcook the pasta or they will fall apart when served. Drain shells and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. We even added a handful of ice cubes to the colander. Spread a few paper towels out on the counter and place each shell upside down to drain all of the liquid that has collected inside the shells.
When the shells are dry, use a teaspoon to stuff the spinach and cheese mixture into each shell. We placed the stuffed shells in the refrigerator for a few hours to let the stuffing flavors marinate and set inside the pasta.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Ladle a layer of Pomodoro sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Place the shells in the dish and cover the tops of the shells in pomodoro sauce, the remaining grated mozzarella cheese and a handful of the parmesan romano cheese blend. Bake for 30 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.
Don’s Pomodoro Sauce
4 cans official San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy (Dad won’t use anything else!)
1 Maui or sweet onion, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup, plus 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. coarse sea salt
1/2 cup fresh organic basil leaves
crushed red pepper, salt and pepper to taste
Prep Work: The most important step in this sauce is preparing the tomatoes. It is important to drain as many of the tomato seeds as possible so as not to add any bitterness to the sauce. The San Marzano tomatoes are deliciously sweet, but the seeds will take away from their amazing flavor. Set a large colander in the sink and use a pairing knife to slice off the tip of the each tomato and drain its seeds. Add the seedless tomatoes to a food processor with the tomato sauce from each can and pulse a few times to combine. You want the sauce to be well-incorporated but still have a nice texture from the tomatoes. Next, add the diced onion and garlic to a small bowl and pour 2 Tbsp. olive oil on top. Season with salt and pepper and mix well. Let this marinate for up to 3-4 hours before making the sauce for the flavors to incorporate and develop.
To make the sauce, add 1/4 cup olive oil, onion and garlic mixture, and a teaspoon of coarse ground salt to a large sauce pan. Heat on medium until onions and garlic are translucent, about 6 minutes. The salt will help to release the sugar from the onions, adding to the sweetness of the tomato sauce. Add your desired amount of crushed red pepper to this- I like my tomato sauce to be a bit spicy. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring for about 10 minutes. Just before serving, stir in the basil for a nice fresh flavor.
Don’s Turkey Meatballs (Difficulty-Easy; Makes 12 Meatballs)
- 2 lb. organic ground turkey
- 1 large Maui or Spanish onion, grated
- 1/2 cup organic fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/3 cup organic ketchup
- 2 cups bread crumbs
- 1 cup grated parmeggiano reggiano cheese
- 2 large organic eggs
- salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and prepare a muffin pan with olive-oil based cooking spray. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and form 12 large meatballs to fit into the muffin the pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes. The meatballs should be fairly firm but should still have some give under the pressure of your finger. Serve with generous amounts of pomodoro sauce and parmeggiano reggiano cheese.
Limoncello Mascarpone Ice Cream (slightly adapted from Curly Girl Kitchen)
(Difficulty- Intermediate; Makes about 1 quart)
- 8 ounces Mascarpone cheese, room temperature
- 1 3/4 cups whole milk
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup Limoncello Licquer
- juice and zest of 2 small lemons
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
In a mixing bowl fitted with the whisk attachment, or using a hand-held mixer, whip the Mascarpone cheese with 1/2 cup of the milk until smooth. Add the remaining milk and the rest of the ingredients and whip until very well blended. Taste and adjust sugar and lemon zest as desired.
Pour into a container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight, until well chilled. After mixture has chilled, whisk it until smooth, then pour through a mesh strainer to strain out the lemon zest. Freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions of your ice cream maker. Transfer to a container and freeze until firm, about 4-6 hours.
Vanilla Cream Cheese Cakelets with Raspberry Cream Filling (adapted from Curly Girl Kitchen)
(Difficulty- Easy; Makes 8 or 9 cupcakes)
- 8 ounces low-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup Penzey’s Raspberry Enlightenment
- 1 small carton fresh raspberries
- 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
Preheat the oven to 350. Spray a cupcake pan with non-stick baking spray.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand-held mixer, beat the 6 oz. cream cheese, butter and sugar on medium speed for 4-5 minutes, scraping the bowl down a few times, until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly. Add the vanilla.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring just until combined. Batter will be very thick. Add batter to cupcake pan. Bake for 18 minutes, until golden brown, and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn cakes out onto the rack to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the raspberry filling by mixing remaining 2 oz. cream cheese, raspberry enlightenment and confectioner’s sugar on high with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add to a piping bag. When cupcakes are cool use a serrated knife to cut the tops off and pipe the filling onto the surface. Replace the top half of the cake and drizzle with more raspberry enlightenement sauce. Serve with limoncello mascarpone ice cream and fresh raspberries.