Here in Italy there are so many different pasta shapes that it’s sometimes difficult to decide which to use. Of course, much depends on the type of ingredients you are planning to make use of and what type of dish you feel like eating; something light and vegetarian for those hot summer days or something more substantial in winter?
I sometimes choose the pasta type first and then find a recipe for it if I don’t already know one or want something different. On other occasions, I think first about the type of dish I want to make. Like the other day, I decided I wanted to make a stuffed pasta to bake in the oven and went in search of a good pasta shape for stuffing and baking. There are a number of different pastas which can be cooked this way. Cannalloni, paccheri or conchiglioni (pasta shells) are all great. However, I found something I’d never used before, lumaconi also known as lumache (meaning snails) These lovely large pasta shells are shaped like snail shells (Hence the name!). They are big enough to take quite a lot of filling inside and can even be eaten as finger food!
Lumaconi made from pasta di Gragnano are the best!
In addition the lumaconi I found were Pasta di Gragnano! Now Gragnano pasta is among the best pasta in Italy. The small town of Gragnano, where this pasta is produced, is historically the home of Italian dry pasta production, pasta having been produced there since the 16th century. There are many reasons why the quality of this pasta is so high, but briefly the location, climate, water and production methods of Gragnano contribute to the production of an excellent pasta that is easy to digest, nutrient-rich, artisan and delicious! If you have never eaten pasta di Gragnano, see if you can order or buy it because it is sure to become your pasta of choice from that day forward!
Anyway back to my lumaconi! I chose to fill them with quite a rich minced meat filling which also has ricotta and bechamel sauce inside, so a little time-consuming to make. (see recipe below) Of course, you can also make a vegetarian filling fo them with, for example, ricotta and spinach.
Two ways to serve the stuffed lumaconi
Since this baked pasta recipe doesn’t involve a sauce apart from the filling, I decided, as an experiment, to serve the lumaconi in two different ways; on a bed of spinach and a bed of caramelized red onions and peppers with roasted cherry tomatoes. In both cases, I put the pasta and the vegetables inside a crispy cheese bowl made from grana padana! As you can imagine both were a hit with my hubby, who was the only taster on this occasion! Next time I make this stuffed pasta dish, there will have to be more guests at the table as I was eating leftovers for the next couple of days. (They are very filling!) Not that I’m complaining!
- 300 grms Lumaconi or Conchiglioni pasta
- 300 grms minced beef
- 250 grms tomato pulp / peeled tomatoes
- 1 onion peeled and finely sliced
- 50 grms grated parmesan
- 150 grms fresh ricotta
- 300 ml milk
- 30 grms butter
- 50grms flour
- Olive oil for cooking the meat
- Salt and pepper to taste
- For caramelized red peppers and onions
- 2 medium red onions peeled and chopped
- 2 red peppers deseeded and cut into small pieces.
- 1 flat tablespoon brown sugar
- Aged Balsamic vinegar or balsamic cream
- For spinach bed 500grms fresh spinach leaves
- Grated grana padana or parmesan for cheese bowls 30-40grms per bowl
- In a saucepan, melt the butter over a low heat, add the flour and stir until you have a white roux.
- Add the milk little by little and keep on the fire until the sauce thickens.
- Season with salt and nutmeg and set aside.
- In a pan fry the finely sliced onion in oil.
- Add the meat once the onion starts to become translucent,
- let the meat brown and add the tomato sauce.
- Cook for about 20 minutes, season with salt and pepper
- When the two sauces (béchamel and meat) have cooled slightly mix them and add the ricotta.
- Mix everything together well and allow to cool further.
- Cook the pasta al dente in boiling salted water, drain it and quickly run cold water over it.
- Using a teaspoon filled each pasta shape and arrange them in a baking dish.
- Sprinkle with the Parmesan.
- Put them in a hot oven (180°) to brown for a 5-10 minutes.
- Third: If you are going to serve them on a bed of spinach, cook the spinach before and then just reheat with a little butter and nutmeg before serving.
- Fourth: If you wish to serve pasta on a bed of red onions and red peppers.
- Fry the peppers first for 5 minutes.
- Add the onions.
- When the onions start to become transparent sprinkle with brown sugar, lower the heat and simmer covered for 15-20 mins.
- Add a few drops of aged balsamic vinegar or balsamic cream a couple of minutes before the end of cooking. Stir well and serve.
- Fifth: For grana padana baskets I used ready grated cheese. I got 3 baskets from one 90 grm packet of cheese
- Heat a 10" skillet over medium-high heat.
- Sprinkle cheese (I just used what seemed to look right, didn't really measure) into a disk shape in pan
- Allow cheese to get golden underneath, then carefully turn it over using a spatula.
- As soon as the other side starts to turn golden quickly remove the cheese and drape it over an upside-down glass or small bowl and form into a bowl.
- Allow to cool completely.
- Repeat instructions until you have the number of baskets needed.
- I also added roasted cherry tomatoes to the dish with caramelized red onions and peppers. Just roast a handful of cherry tomatoes with a little olive oil and rosemary until the skins start to darken.