Pasta shaped like great big shells (conchiglioni) has always intrigued me, because those shells are just begging to be stuffed with something. The little ones are good, too, because they hold sauce in a hot dish or dressing in a pasta salad. But the big ones can hold any kind of stuffing you can think of.
A box of conchiglioni caught my eye in the grocery aisle the other day, so I bought one without having a clear idea of what I wanted to make from them. Over several days I flipped through a mental catalog: shrimp, cheese, ham, chicken, ground beef. Nothing seemed exactly right, and then I remembered a can of minced clams that had been sitting in the pantry just waiting for me to make one of my favorites, pasta with clams and white sauce.
That seemed like a good beginning, but I was trying to think of something a little different. At last I came up with a plan and decided to make a stuffing of clams, mushrooms, and spinach.
- 12 giant conchiglioni
- 3 quarts salted water
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 bunch fresh spinach, washed, trimmed of stems, and chopped coarsely
- 1 pound crimini mushrooms, washed and sliced
- 6.5 ounces canned minced clams, drained (Reserve clam juice)
- ½ teaspoon Pernod
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- ½ cup whipping cream
- ¾ cup grated Swiss cheese
- ½ cupgrated Parmesan cheese
- butter for dotting the top of the casserole
- Boil the pasta shells in the boiling salted water until al dente, about 12 to 15 minutes. Drain and set aside for stuffing.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Then add the chopped spinach and heat, covered, until wilted.
- Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté until the mushrooms are cooked through.
- Then add the clams, Pernod, salt and pepper. Be careful with the Pernod, as too much can be overwhelming. Reduce the heat to low until ready for stuffing.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and then add the flour. Stir until thoroughly mixed and cook for 5 minutes to remove the raw taste of the flour. Stir in the clam juice and enough cream to make a thick sauce. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Add water if the sauce is too thick.
- Arrange the cooked pasta shells in a well-buttered baking dish.
- Divide the stuffing evenly among the pasta shells. Then top with the sauce, sprinkle with Swiss and Parmesan cheeses. Dot with butter, and place in the middle of an oven pre-heated to 350°F. Bake for 50 minutes or until the top of the casserole is well-browned. Remove from the oven, let rest for 5 minutes, then serve.