It wasn’t always about the sex.
It used to be about food, too.
My junior year of high school, Seventeen magazine was my must-read monthly. It was the girlfriend who never undercut me; the counselor who always gave sage advice. I learned to wear a hat and rock a blazer in its pages. I learned to play with my hair.
And I learned to cook pasta.
Cooking used to be a big part of Seventeen. Sure, the pub has some food news today. But it’s kind of overshadowed by the “am-I-ready-for-sex-with-my-boyfriend” quizzes. (Trust me, girlfriend. You’re not.) So junior year, when my friend Jaleh and I decided to throw a party for four of our nearest, dearest, soon-to-graduate friends, I combed the magazine for dinner ideas.
That’s when I found stuffed shells.
It was a showstopping recipe: A spinach, ricotta and mozzarella mixture spooned into giant pasta shells and baked in a pool of tomato sauce. It was colorful and festive and a perfect complement to Jaleh’s signature monkey bread. We feted our fine friends, and I copied Seventeen‘s stuffed shell recipe onto a 3X5-inch index card.
That card traveled with me to college, then to my first job in Daytona Beach. I kept it when I moved to Tampa and Tallahassee and West Palm Beach; I kept it through romances and breakups and marriage and babies and a move to Washington, DC — pulling it out and making the foolproof stuffed shells for family suppers and dinners with bosses.
Now, it’s one of my tried-and-true recipes for clients. It’s a perfect entree for vegetarians; a delightful dish for children; a showstoppingly beautiful addition to a fancy buffet. People ooh and aah over it and ask where in the world I found it.
Up until now, it’s been my secret. The pages of Seventeen. ‘Cause, you know, life used to be more than sex.
I just finished Molly Ringwald’s book, Getting The Pretty Back. I have to say, I was kind of disappointed. I was hoping for a memoir from America’s perennial teenager. After all, what’s it like to age and become an adult when you’re emblazoned in a generation’s mind as 16 years old and pretty in pink?
Alas, no such luck. Getting The Pretty Back is an advice book on how to throw dinner parties and pack for air travel and choose the perfect shade of lipstick (which, given Molly’s famous lips, is actually pretty interesting…) It was a breezy read, but it couldn’t have been frothier or more superficial.
Which brings me to my friend T. She has started her own blog, Itsaprocessnotanevent.wordpress.com. T is filled with wisdom and practicality and common sense, and she writes with honesty and depth about the lessons she has gleaned through the process of everyday living. Check it out! T gives Miss Molly a run for her money.
This recipe originally called for garlic and onion powders and Ragu spaghetti sauce. Nowadays, I sub those out for finely minced onion and garlic and my own tomato sauce. But your favorite jarred marinara works fine and is just as delicious!
- 1 box jumbo shells
- 1 large jar marinara
- 2 10-ounce packages frozen cut spinach, thawed and wrung dry
- 1 15-ounce container ricotta
- 1 8-ounce package shredded mozzarella cheese
- 2 eggs, slightly beaten
- 1/4 cup minced onion
- 1-2 minced garlic cloves
- Dash of nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Salt it generously, then cook the pasta shells according to package directions. When done, drain the pasta, rinse it, then lay it flat on foil so the shells don’t stick together.
In a large bowl, combine the spinach, ricotta, mozzarella, eggs, onion and garlic. Stir well, then season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Grease a 9x13x2-inch casserole dish. Pour about 1/2 cup of marinara in the bottom and swirl to cover the entire dish.
Stuff each shell with a heaping teaspoon of filling and place it in the casserole dish. Fit the shells in a snug single layer, using any leftover filling to fill the gaps between them. Pour the remaining marinara over the shells, being sure to cover the edges. (Otherwise, they dry out in the oven.) Sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese.
Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the cheese is golden and the casserole is bubbly. Serve immediately.