We've been eating a lot of pasta around these here parts lately. That is because a) It's easy b) It reheats well and c) It freezes well... which is why we can eat these little plump guys when I would never have time to make them right now. I made a huge batch of these around New Year's Day and put aside a portion to freeze before I cooked the main batch. I even topped it with the grated cheese because I had the forethought to think... I will not happen to have fontina in the fridge when I happen to pull these out in a moment of hungry desperation.
They do take a little time to make, but if you double the batch and freeze a portion or two you can feed an army (or two), and with no more work than it takes to make a single batch... can't beat that with a stick!
Cut up your eggplant....
Cook all your filling... I like to mash it once it's all been cooked. Sometimes it can look a little liquidy from the eggplant and spinach but it works out you don't have to drain it or anything.
Once the stuffing is cooled and you've added the cheese and such it's time to get messy and stuff the shells.
I made such a large batch I actually topped this layer with sauce and laid another layer on top. Which worked but did not make it easy to serve individual good looking shells... hence the one decent looking shell the one slightly mangled shell in the photo.
Make your sauce... such an easy sauce from something so great.
Top the shells with the sauce and then the grated cheese. Cover and bake, then uncover and bake until golden and bubbly. And now that this post is complete I'm going to raid the fridge to have some leftovers... jealous?
Sausage and Eggplant Stuffed Shells in a Tomato-Cream Basil Sauce
adapted from Emeril Laggase
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
2 cups chopped onion
1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 7 cups cubed)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 cup ricotta or mascarpone cheese
12 ounces fresh spinach, blanched, squeezed dry, and chopped (about 2/3 cup chopped)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 (12-ounce) package jumbo pasta shells (about 18 shells)
2 cups Italian crushed tomatoes
3 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
4 ounces coarsely grated fontina cheese
In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat and saute the sausage until golden brown, stirring to break up the pieces, about 6 minutes. Add half of the onions and the eggplant, season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, or until the vegetables are lightly caramelized and very soft. Add 1 tablespoon garlic and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and transfer to a large bowl to cool.
When the mixture has cooled to room temperature, stir in the ricotta or mascarpone cheese, spinach, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and sugar. Stir to combine well.
Lightly grease a deep 9 by 13-inch casserole or lasagna pan and set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta shells until just al dente, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Pat shells dry. Stuff the pasta shells with the sausage-eggplant mixture and place in the prepared casserole dish.
In a large saucepan, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat and saute the remaining chopped onions until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the remaining tablespoon of garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Add the heavy cream and cook until the sauce is reduced in volume by about 1/3, about 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Add the basil to the sauce and pour the sauce over the shells in the casserole. Sprinkle with the fontina cheese and the remaining Parmesan. Cover the casserole tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the sauce is lightly browned in spots and bubbly around the edges, about 15 minutes longer. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.