Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lemon balm pesto stuffed shells

As I mentioned last time, my lemon balm plant was getting pretty overgrown before I went out there with a measuring cup and removed all the big leaves until I had two fairly packed cups.  I went back inside as soon as that task was completed, since summer's already here and it's too hot mid-afternoon to spend more time outside than necessary, and promptly washed off the lemon balm and made lemon balm pesto.  This recipe was the inspiration, but I ended up making it more like a traditional pesto by adding a quarter cup of pine nuts and salt and pepper to taste.  A few days later (yesterday, in fact), I picked up some jumbo shells, crushed tomatoes and ricotta at Publix and made stuffed shells using the lemon balm pesto. 

I'm not the world's most enthusiastic baker, especially when it's hot outside, but this was every bit as tasty as my best-ever lasagna (the vegan one) and much easier to make since no layers are involved.  I now also have a favorite brand of crushed tomatoes - Dei Fratelli.  I never would have expected there to be a difference between brands of crushed tomatoes, and I generally buy the store brand or whatever's cheap.  Well, the Dei Fratelli ones were thick enough that I could have used them as the main ingredient in a lasagna sauce without having to cook it down for an hour and make a big mess on the stove, splatter guard or no splatter guard.  But I digress...

Again, the lemon balm stuffed shells recipe at the site above, where the pesto recipe came from, was the basis for last night's dinner, but I used more like one cup of the pesto (one recipe, not a double batch) and a 15-ounce container of ricotta plus another half-cup or so of grated parm.  I skipped the onion because I didn't have any.  And I didn't exactly use an entire box of the shells - maybe 30 out of 36 shells went into the pot, and I still had six left over when I ran out of the stuffing.  Oh, well - 24 stuffed shells filled my 13 x 9 inch baking dish along with the red sauce (half the can of crushed tomatoes, 4 cloves of garlic, salt and pepper to taste and about two teaspoons of dried thyme from the backyard) that I poured over it to keep the shells from drying out.  No foil, just in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.

Nice and lemony!  Between the lemon balm and the thyme, this turned out to be a very brightly-flavored dish even without using lemon juice or zest.  Plus, since it doesn't take that long to bake and the pesto and even the pesto-ricotta mixture can be prepared ahead of time, it's a relatively easy dish to make after a long day at work.  Just do some prep work ahead of time, come home and cook the shells, stuff 'em, pour some sauce over the top and in the oven they go!  They also make fantastic leftovers.

It's a hot one out there...stay cool everybody!

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