Baked Shells Casserole

7 Mar

Print the recipe page!   baked shells casserole  

Today’s recipe is my food storage version of a popular Rachel Ray dish of the same name.  It turned out to be her #1 most downloaded recipe of 2010 in fact.  It does take some extra time to make but (food storage or not) it’s a guaranteed winner!

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Prep time:  90 minutes

Baking time:  30 minutes (or more)

Serves 8

Ingredients:

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1 1/4 cup freeze dried onion flakes, divided (or 1 1/2 onion chopped)

1/2 cup freeze dried carrot dices (or one carrot chopped)

1 cup freeze dried spinach (*see note)

1 1/4 cup hot water, divided

3 TBS olive oil

1 (14.5 oz) can chicken broth

2 (28 oz.) cans crushed tomatoes

1 1/2 tsp. salt, divided (*including amount for ricotta)

1/2 tsp. pepper, divided

1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, divided

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (or more if you like it hot)

1 1/2 tsp. oregano

1 tsp. fennel seeds

1 TBS thyme

1/8 cup dried parsley

1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp. chicken bouillon

1/2 TBS apple cider vinegar (*see note)

16 oz. medium pasta shells (not extra large stuffing shells)

8 cups water (for boiling the pasta)

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Pantry Ricotta Cheese

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4 cups water

2 cans evaporated milk

3 tsp. Citric Acid powder (*see notes for where to buy this)

3 cups powdered milk

3/4 cup parmesan cheese, divided (1/2 cup for the cheese, 1/4 cup for topping casserole)

***

Tools & Supplies:

a thermometer

cheese cloth

sun oven baking dish

a wonder oven (to save fuel)

***

Instructions:

Preheat the sun oven if using one.

Begin making the cheese by heating 4 cups of water and one can of evaporated milk in a large pot. To this add 3 cups powdered milk and whisk until completely combined. Heat milk to 140 degrees and add 2 tsp. citric acid powder. You should immediately see curds beginning to form in the milk. After a few minutes, strain mixture through a cheese cloth lined colander sitting over top of a bowl to catch the liquid. Reserve this liquid for later step (*see note). Allow the cheese to drain and cool.

While waiting for the cheese to drain and cool, rehydrate 3/4 cup of the freeze dried onion flakes with the 1/2 cup freeze dried carrot using 1/2 cup hot water.  In a separate dish combine 1/2 cup hot water, 1/2 tsp. chicken bouillon and 1/2 TBS apple cider vinegar.  Finally, in a third dish, rehydrate remaining 1/2 cup onion and 1 cup freeze dried spinach using 1/4 cup hot water.  To the onion and spinach add 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper and stir.

Check the cheese.  If mostly drained (and cool enough to handle), pull up the sides of the cheese cloth and squeeze out the remaining liquid. Set cheese aside in a dish. If the remaining liquid from the first strain is still very milky, heat it on the stove to 140 degrees. Add 1/4 tsp. at a time of citric acid powder until milk curds develop — up to one tsp. Strain through the cheese cloth lined colander as you did the first.  Allow it to cool.

While waiting, heat olive oil in a pot over medium heat.  Crush the fennel seeds (using the flat end of a knife) and pre-measure the spices to add.  Spices include the following:  3/4 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1 tsp. garlic powder, red pepper flakes, oregano and thyme.  Add onion/carrot mixture to the heated oil along with the spices and sautee for 3-4 minutes.  Add in parsley and broth/vinegar mixture and reduce a minute.  Add canned broth and tomatoes, bring the sauce up to a boil (covering it so the lid heats as well) and transfer to a wonder oven to simmer for 45 minutes.  Begin boiling the pasta water (8 cups), adding a dash of salt to the water.

Return to the cheese and squeeze out the remaining liquid. Now as you look at your liquid it should be purely whey, not milky at all. This liquid can be used if wanted in bread or other recipes.  Break up the two cheese balls using a fork and slowly mix in the other can of evaporated milk until it’s a consistency that you like. Add 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese and 1/4 tsp. salt (to taste).  Add the onion/spinach mixture and stir.

Cook the pasta shells for 5 minutes, drain the water and return to the pot.  Add the ricotta mixture to the shells.

Once the marinara is finished simmering, pour three cups into the bottom of a baking dish.  Fill dish with pasta and top with a cup of marinara.  Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.  Bake for 30 minutes in a  375 degree oven.  If your sun oven temperature is lower, adjust the cooking time accordingly.  Serve with left over marinara to top as desired.

***

Making the cheese…

First strain…

While waiting for the cheese to cool, prepare three separate ingredient combinations.

1)  Rehydrate 3/4 cup of the freeze dried onion flakes with 1/2 cup freeze dried carrot dices using 1/2 cup hot water.

Baked Shells Casserole (2)

2)  In a small dish add 1/2 tsp. chicken bouillon powder to 1/2 cup hot water.  Add 1/2 TBS apple cider vinegar. (*see note)

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3)  Rehydrate the remaining 1/2 cup freeze dried onion flakes with 1 cup freeze dried spinach using 1/4 cup hot water.  (*You don’t want this mixture watery at all and the spinach takes next to nothing to rehydrate.)  Add to this 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, 1/2 tsp salt,  1/4 tsp. pepper and 1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg and stir.

Baked Shells Casserole (18) Baked Shells Casserole (19)

Check the cheese.  If mostly drained (and cool enough to handle), pull up the sides of the cheese cloth and squeeze out the remaining liquid. Set cheese aside in a dish.

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Second round of cheese curdling. Heat milk to 140 degrees. Then add 1/4 tsp at a time of citric acid (you definitely don’t want to add too much) until the milk immediately curds. You shouldn’t need any more than 1 tsp citric acid in this step.

You can see the difference in the liquid against the curds this second time — it’s not milky any more.

Again, straining the curds and allowing to drain and cool.

While waiting for the second batch of cheese to cool, heat the olive oil in a pot over medium heat.  Crush and chop the fennel seeds (using the flat end of a knife) and pre-measure the other spices to add.  Spices include the following:  3/4 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1 tsp. garlic powder, red pepper flakes, oregano and thyme.  Add onion/carrot mixture to the heated oil, adding the spices and sautee for 3-4 minutes.

Baked Shells Casserole (3)Baked Shells Casserole (4)

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Add in parsley and broth/vinegar mixture and reduce a minute.

Baked Shells Casserole (9)Baked Shells Casserole (10)

Add canned broth and tomatoes, bring the sauce up to a boil (covering it so the lid heats as well) and transfer to a wonder oven to simmer for 45 minutes.

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Begin boiling the pasta water (8 cups) and add a dash of salt to the water.

Return to the cheese and squeeze out any remaining liquid. Now as you look at it your liquid it should be purely whey, not milky at all. This liquid can be used if wanted in bread or other recipes.  Break up the two cheese balls using a fork.

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Now you have a crumbly cheese ready to cream and be made to taste “ricotta style”.  Slowly mix in the other can of evaporated milk until it’s a consistency that you like. Add 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese and 1/4 tsp. salt (to taste).

Add the spinach mixture to the finished ricotta.

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Once the pasta water is boiling, add the shells to boil for FIVE minutes only.  You want them to be “under-done”.

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Drain the shells, (returning them to the pot) and stir in the spinach/ricotta mixture.

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Once the marinara is finished simmering, pour 3 cups of it into the bottom of a baking dish (the one I’m using here is sun oven friendly), followed by the ricotta and shells and topped with 1 cup marinara.

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Going into the sun oven to bake.  This 60 degree day and I was able to get 375 right on the dot.  On other 60 degree days I haven’t gotten that high of a temperature but as long as it’s right around 250-300 it’s just a matter of extending the baking time.  Most things I’ve baked in my sun oven have taken close to double the time of my house oven.

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The finished casserole…

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Serve topped with some of the remaining marinara and enjoy!

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Notes:

  • Since I don’t store wine, the broth/apple cider vinegar mixture is my substitute for Rachel’s call for 1/2 cup of white wine.  
  • I’ve made this recipe for pantry “ricotta style cheese” dozens of times.  Twice (in all those times) the whey and curds have completely separated with only the first addition of 2 tsp. citric acid in the first strain.  Just FYI so you can watch for it.  Apparently the cheese has a mind of it’s own every once in a while, usually requiring two strains but sometimes requiring just one.  I can’t explain “why” it does this but the ricotta has still ended up tasting exactly as it always does even with just one strain.
  • I forgot to picture the freeze dried spinach.  The brand I like is Thrive’s.  Since it’s not something I use very often I really appreciate that they sell it in the smaller sized “pantry cans”.
  • The best sun oven baking dishes to use should be 1) thin metalled and 2) dark or black.  I bought the one you see here from the company I bought my sun oven from (link here) but you can use anything you find elsewhere that meets these two requirements.
  • You can find the citric acid to buy at any vitamin or natural foods store.

2 Responses to “Baked Shells Casserole”

  1. Prepared Housewives March 7, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

    You’re amazing! Can’t wait to try this out. Thanks for posting very detailed instructions and pictures for people like me :)

    • myfoodstoragecookbook March 7, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

      Ahh, you’re going to love it! With all the information here we ALL need the detailed instructions and pictures, myself included :)

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