Sausage & Spinach Stuffed Shells in Tomato Basil Cream Sauce

My Boss Steve and his lovely wife Beth hosted a party this past Saturday night themed: Celebrity chefs and Blind Wine Tasting. They picked 4 of us from the office to make whatever we wanted as a main course to feed 3 judges and guests. The blind wine tasting involved 4 bottles of excellent wine, labels covered, and samplings of each to come down to a vote for which one was the best.
i was one of the 4 celebrity chefs being judged. All the meals were delicious and it was unanimous that it was a four-way tie!

 Ingredients:
  • 3/4 Lb Hot Italian Sausage, casings removed
  • 2 cups finely chopped onion
  • 2 TBsp minced garlic (approx 3 cloves)
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 12oz fresh spinach, blanched, squeezed dry, and chopped (approx 2/3 cup chopped)
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup coarsely grated fontina cheese
  • 12oz package jumbo pasta shells
  • 26 oz Italian crushed tomatoes
  • 3 -1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • olive oil
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper

Steps:

  1. In a large skillet, heat olive oil on med-high and saute onions till clear, then add sausage, salt-n-pep and crushed red pepper and 1 TBsp garlic. Cook till golden brown breaking up the pieces.
  2. Remove from heat and transfer to large bowl to cool.
  3. When mixture has cooled to room temp, stir in ricotta, spinach, 1/2 cup parm and sugar. Combine well.
  4. Lightly grease a deep 9×13 casserole or lasagna pan and set aside.
  5. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta shells until just al dente. Drain and rinse under cold running water then pat dry.
  6. Stuff the pasta shells with the sausage-spinach mixture and place in prepared casserole dish.
  7. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil on medium high and saute remaining onions until clear. Add remaining garlic and cook until fragrant approx 1-2 mins.
  8. Add the crushed tomatoes, salt-n-pep, crushed red pepper (t.t.) and cook for 5 mins.
  9. Add the heavy cream and cook until sauce is reduced by 1/3, about 20 mins.
  10. Preheat oven to 350F
  11. Add the finely chopped basil to the sauce right before pouring the sauce over the shells in casserole.
  12. Sprinkle with the fontina cheese and remaining Parm. Cover casserole tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 45 mins. Remove the foil and continue baking until the sauce is lightly browned in spots and bubbly around the edges. About 15 mins longer.
  13. Let stand for 10 mins before serving. Goes great with thin sliced garlic bread.
  14. Bon Appetito!
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