Thursday, 28 February 2013

Lumaconi Pasta Stuffed with Spinach & Ricotta




I made stuffed lumaconi pasta for the first time this week. I'd never seen this kind of pasta before. They are these fantastic little baskets that are perfect to hold filling. Lumaconi is Italian for giant snails, dubbed for it's shell like shape. I tried a stuffing with ricotta and spinach and then set the lumaconi over a béchamel with dollops of marinara. Then I topped it with some fresh Parmigiano Reggiano and baked it. Despite it looking something like Freddy Krueger's face in the photo above, it was delicious. When I baked the lumaconi, I knew that the sauce would bubble up between the pasta shells but around the edge of the dish it rose higher than I wanted it to. I wanted to share this anyway because this would make such a great appetizer or maybe even a meal if served with an exciting salad and maybe some bread. If you can't find lumaconi, you can use any large pasta shell. 




I started by making a béchamel sauce, which sounds really fancy but is easy to make and is the base for a lot of creamy white sauces in many European and American dishes. I gently heated about three cups of milk over medium-low heat with half a shallot, a bay leaf, a little fresh grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. You can use packaged ground nutmeg but it doesn't even compare to grating it fresh yourself. In another saucepan, I melted about two tablespoons of butter and then added an equal amount of flour. This is called making a roux, and for a béchamel you just want to cook the flour for a minute or two. This takes the rawness out of the flour and brings out a subtle nutty aroma. Then I added a small ladle of the warm milk and stirred with a whisk. The roux will form a thick paste. Then mix in the rest of the milk, one ladle at a time with a few seconds of whisking between each addition. When that comes to a simmer, turn the heat down to low and let the béchamel thicken up. The perfect consistency is when it coats the back of a wooden spoon, and if you run your finger across it, the line you created will stay in place. That's a simple béchamel.


 

To make the stuffing, I wilted one bunch of organic spinach in a little olive oil over medium heat. I suggest chopping the spinach a bit finer than how you see it in the picture. It will just make the stuffing part easier.




Once the spinach was wilted (which doesn't take long at all) I set it between sheets of paper towel and pressed out most of the liquid. Then I added the spinach to a bowl with a little tub of ricotta, a generous amount of fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano, a little fresh ground nutmeg, salt and pepper.




I gave that thorough mix and realized that I needed an egg to help bind everything together. So it got another thorough mix to work the egg in.




As for the lumaconi, I cooked them in salted water until they were just under al dente. Then I drained them, poured a little olive oil over them and gave them a shake so that they would get evenly coated and not stick to each other. I put the ricotta and spinach stuffing into a piping bag and filled each of the lumaconi once they were cool enough to handle. If you don't have a piping bag, you can just use a regular plastic bag and just cut off the corner. In a pinch, you could use a spoon. 
  



I poured enough béchamel into a casserole dish so that it would just come halfway up the sides of the lumaconi. I added a few dollops of marinara but you could use any Italian tomato sauce. 






Gently arrange the lumaconi over the sauce, with the stuffing side up. You want enough to cover the bottom of the dish but you don't want them to be crammed together.



I colori della bandiera Italiana
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All they needed at that point was a final grating of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano before going to a preheated oven for about twenty minutes. I baked them at 350 F/175 C. 





Through the process of cooking and then plating the lumaconi the sauce got all mixed together and didn't look quite as nice as it did before I went in the oven. Oh well. 




They were delicious none the less. I ended up with some stuffing and tomato sauce so I made it again the next day without the béchamel but overall, aside from appearance, I preferred it with. Here's a shot of the second batch with just marinara.




Well this was really tasty and actually quite fun to make. I definitely recommend trying this or some kind of variation suited to your personal taste. This post is more about an experiment that an authentic Italian recipe. I just thought it deserved a little attention on the blog.

So mangia, my friends.

B

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