Happy Valentine’s Day! I know Valentine’s Day is a boomin’ holiday for restaurants but as a diner (and as someone who loves to cook), I have never been big on the whole go-out-to-eat-with-your-sweetie tradition: I don’t like to fight the crowds to eat from a limited menu that’s usually just too much (both in cost and richness) and then feel rushed to leave in time for the next seating (when I was a waitress, however, my favorite way to spend Valentine’s Day was working: lots of volume, a higher price point and diners who were trying to impress their dates through tipping = a shift that flew by and lotsa money dollahs.) Gist and I usually spend the holiday with a home-cooked meal and this year was no different.
Our big Valentine’s Weekend (because who wants to celebrate on a Monday?) consisted of attending a lecture about Mexican Chocolate Traditions in Massachusetts at the Lowell National Park and a chocolate tasting to raise money for the Brush Gallery’s scholarship program on Saturday evening, and a delicious meal together on Sunday.
On the menu? Heart-Stuffed Shells in a Ricotta Sauce…
…and Maple Syrup Pie.
The pasta recipe is Smitten Kitchen via Bon Appétit and it was amazing.
Artichokes, brown butter, caramelized onions, lemon…
…Parmesan and Romano cheeses…
…along with a ricotta cream sauce…
…all stuffed into shells…
…and baked until bubbly? How could it not be amazing!
The pie is a Canadian Living recipe and it was out of this world, especially if you love maple as much as I do. It was also a cinch to put together: other than making the pie crust, the recipe just calls for some whisking…
…and some time in the oven.
The pie has amazing maple flavor, a crackly caramelized crust and is served with crème fraîche instead of whipped cream to contrast with the sweetness. We loved it. And at the end of the meal Gist exclaimed “That was a masterpiece!” with the love-light in her eyes, always nice to hear from your Valentine!
I made a few slight changes to the recipe: I added lemon zest to the ricotta sauce to up the lemon flavor and I sprinkled some Parmesan on top of the shells before baking.
- 18 jumbo pasta shells (approximately half of a 12-ounce box) – I had enough filling for 24.
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 large onion, chopped small
- 12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and patted dry
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup (1 1/4 ounces) finely grated Romano cheese
- 1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley or fresh basil leaves, for garnish (optional)
Cook the shells: Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, and cook shells according to package directions. Drain and toss with a teaspoon or two of olive oil, to keep them from sticking.
Make the filling: Melt butter in a heavy 12-inch skillet (or the bottom of the dried-out pot you used to cook your pasta, if you’re into dirtying fewer dishes) and cook it until it turns nutty and brown, stirring occasionally to keep the solids moving on the bottom of the pan. Once it is a nice nutty brown, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, then the onions and cook them until they are lightly brown and caramelized, about 7 minutes. Add the artichoke hearts and cook them until they are softened a bit, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook it until it completely disappears.
Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool slightly, before transferring it to the bowl of a food processor. Add both cheeses, the yolks, lemon juice, salt and black pepper and pulse in the food processor until well chopped but still retains a little texture.
Make the sauce: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan (or the wiped out pot you made the artichoke filling in, if you’re into spending less time scrubbing pots) over medium-high heat. Once melted, add the flour all at once and whisk it until smooth. Add the milk, a small glug at a time, whisking constantly so no lumps form. Once the mixture has reached a batter-like consistency, you can begin adding the milk in larger pours at a time, whisking the whole time. Once all the milk is added, add the garlic and bring the sauce to a boil, stirring frequently. Once boiling, it will immediately begin to thicken. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for two to three minutes before stirring in the ricotta, lemon juice, salt and black pepper. Adjust salt, pepper and lemon to taste.
Assemble the dish: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour two cups of sauce (you’ll have about 2 1/2 cups total) into the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Scoop one tablespoon of artichoke filling inside each cooked shell; this will fill it but still allow the sides to close and neatly hold the filling intact while it bakes. Nest each pasta shell in the sauce, seam up. Dollop a spoonful of the remaining sauce over each shell. Cover the dish with foil and bake it for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake it for a final 15 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley or basil, if using, and serve immediately.
Maple Syrup Pie
Recipe courtesy of Canadian Living
- Pie crust
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) packed brown sugar – I used light
- 1-1/2 cups cups(375 mL) maple syrup – we only use Grade B syrup in our house, I prefer the darker, richer flavor.
- 1/3 cup(75 mL) heavy cream
- 1/4 cup (50 mL) all-purpose flour
In large bowl, whisk eggs with brown sugar until creamy; whisk in maple syrup, cream and flour until smooth. Pour into pie shell.
Bake on foil-lined baking sheet in bottom third of 375°F (190°C) oven until pastry is golden and filling is puffed and dry to the touch but still trembles, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool on rack.