Pasta Shells with Prosciutto, Ricotta, Mushrooms and Marinara Sauce

My husband and I really enjoy spend the weekends cooking together. Everything is so much fun for us, from choosing and shopping the ingredients to the preparation of the dish. We love to share all these moments. Most of the times we choose a challenge, like dishes with many preparation steps and long cooking time. But sometimes we have an early appointment, so we decided for something simpler and also quicker.

This pasta shells are very simple to prepare. They are stuffed with ricotta, parsley, mushrooms and prosciutto, covered with marinara sauce. I made the stuff while he prepared the marinara sauce, and then we stuffed the shells together. We spent a short time in the kitchen, but it was very fun. Besides, who said that a quick and easy meal could not be savory? These pasta shells are the perfect example that proves the opposite.

Pasta Shells with Prosciutto, Ricotta and Mushrooms
(adapted from here)

  • 12 jumbo pasta shells
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 ounces prosciutto, fat trimmed, chopped
  • 2 large shallots, chopped
  • 8 ounces cremini or button mushrooms, chopped (about 3 cups)
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 1 tablespoon dried, crumbled
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 15-ounce container prepared marinara sauce (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Drain.
Meanwhile, melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chopped prosciutto and shallots and cook until shallots are translucent, stirring frequently, about 4 minutes. Add chopped mushrooms and cook until tender and juices evaporate, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in ricotta, basil and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
 Spoon 1 rounded tablespoon mushroom mixture into each pasta shell and add marinara sauce.

Marinara Sauce

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves

In a large casserole pot, heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon of each salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Season the sauce with more salt and pepper, to taste. (The sauce can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium heat before using.)

This recipe was featured on Foodbuzz Top 9: April 30, 2011


Easter Eggs Part II

I love flowers, I love the spring time. The life’s explosion everywhere brings me such a happiness and peaceful felling. When I was living in England I had the pleasure and happiness to see the bloom of lovely and gorgeous flowers. Peonies, tulips, cherry blossoms… they are my favorite! Those flowers are the reason of my love affair with photography. I was so impressed with such beauty that I started to photography every flower that I saw in front of me.

As I come from a country where Easter is in the autumn season, that spring felling led me understand the true meaning of the rebirth celebration. The Easter on that year was very special for me. I had a great day with a lovely couple of friends. The day was very beautiful and sunny. Beyond the wonderful meal that my dear friend Biankita prepared and the good talk, she gave me an adorable gift, a bit of her childhood. She gave me an Easter egg shell handmade by her mother. 

I loved to listen how she and her sisters appreciated the egg hunt on her home and how her mother liked to prepare this activity. I really loved my gift.

Two years later, when I saw the April edition of Martha Stewart Living, those memories come to my mind and I was very inspired to make dyed Easter Eggs. As I like painting I decided to make little flowers, dots and leaves, something very simple. To dye them I used food coloring, vinegar and hot water and to decorate I bought a water-based acrylic colors special for eggs.

These gorgeous eggs can be used for egg hunts, filled with chocolate or candy, and to decorate the house. Here are some examples that I made.

I also made some solid domino chocolate eggs. So yummy!

The egg shells make beautiful vases for tiny flowers centerpieces. I used orchid and Schlumbergera, also known as Easter cactus (flor de seda).

Besides the chicken eggs I used quail eggs too. How cute they are!

There are countless options to decorate Easter eggs. I had a great time making those eggs and this will become a beloved tradition for me. I have to say that one day I wish I could learn the pysanky technique. This Ukrainian style is wonderful, so rich in details and colors, a great masterpiece.

Chocolate Egg 
(how to from Martha Stewart)

Using a pin, poke a hole in the bottom of a large raw egg; insert the tip of a utility knife, and turn to open the hole slightly. Using a rotary drill fitted with a 3/8-inch bit, carefully widen the hole to at least 1/2 inch in diameter. Insert pin into the hole to pierce and "stir" the yolk. Hold the egg, hole down, over a bowl, and blow air into the hole with a rubber ear syringe (the air will displace and expel the egg). Rinse out egg. Repeat to make 12 blown eggs (you may want to make extras in case some break).

Sterilize eggs: Submerge them in a pot of cold water with 1 tablespoon white vinegar; bring to a boil, then simmer, skimming foam from surface, 10 minutes. Let drain on a pin board. If not dyeing eggs, let dry completely on pin board, 2 to 3 days (check insides for moisture).

 If dyeing eggs: Mix 4 tablespoons vinegar and 12 drops of blue food coloring with 2 cups boiling-hot water in a heatproof glass or enamel bowl. Fill a separate cup with white vinegar. Using a plastic spoon, dip eggs in vinegar, then into the dye, 2 to 3 minutes. Pat eggs with paper towels to eliminate streaks. (If dye begins to cool while you're working, make a new batch.) Let the eggs dry as described above.
 Using an offset serrated knife, very finely chop 3 pounds of chocolate. Reserve 1 cup chocolate; using a bench scraper, transfer remaining chocolate to a large heatproof bowl.

 Temper chocolate: Set bowl over a pan of simmering water. Melt chocolate, stirring occasionally, until a chocolate thermometer registers 131 degrees. (Note: Many brands of dark chocolate should not be heated to more than 118 degrees.) Remove from heat; stir in reserved cup chocolate until completely melted. Pour 2/3 of the melted chocolate onto a clean smooth work surface (such as marble or stainless steel). Spread thinly with an offset spatula. Then gather together chocolate, and take temperature. Continue spreading and gathering chocolate until it cools to 82 degrees to 84 degrees.

 Scrape chocolate back into bowl with remaining chocolate. Stir until it cools to 82 degrees to 84 degrees. Set bowl over a pan of warm water, and reheat to 88 degrees. To check consistency, dip a spoon in chocolate and remove; chocolate should set in about 2 minutes, turning shiny and hard. Note: This temperature must be maintained as you fill the eggs; keep a thermometer in the chocolate, and check frequently. Rest the bowl on a heating pad wrapped in a towel, or set bowl over the pan of warm (not hot) water.

 Place eggshells in an egg carton. Place a disposable pastry bag in a tall glass, and fold top down. Fill bag with chocolate; cut tip to create a 1/4-inch opening.

 For solid chocolate eggs: Insert tip of bag into each egg, and fill with chocolate (about 1/4 cup per egg; fill a new bag with chocolate as needed). Let set completely, about 4 hours.

Tip Junkie handmade projects

Easter Eggs Part I

Chocolate eggs, a symbol of Easter, are a sign of birth and new life. I remember my happiness on Easter Sunday, when I was a child. Now, my happiness is making my own eggs! Yes, it was my first time and it was so much fun.

I made 3 flavors: Belgian white chocolate with M&M'S; Belgian semisweet chocolate with almond praliné brigadeiro filling and Belgian semisweet chocolate with coconut filling. I also made some bonbons with the same flavors.

The secret of a beautiful egg is the chocolate tempering. Every brand of chocolate requires different tempering temperatures. When done correctly the chocolate will be perfectly creamy, smooth, and shiny. David Lebovitz explains how to do here.

Handmade chocolate eggs are simple to make and are a great occasion to cook with your family. 

Chocolate Easter Egg
(how to from here)

You will need 400-500g of chocolate, depending on the size of your moulds. Break the chocolate into similarly sized chunks, so it will melt easily and evenly.
It's best to melt the chocolate slowly in a bowl over a pan of hot water, rather than on the hob - you don't want the chocolate to get warmer than 42ºC (44ºC for dark chocolate). If you don't have a cooking thermometer, dip the crook of your little finger in the chocolate – if it's barely warm, you're doing fine. If you want a glossier finish to your egg, take a few extra minutes to temper it.
Using a ladle fill the egg mould about a quarter full with chocolate, then tilt and twirl the mould until the chocolate covers the whole thing. Tip the excess back into the bowl. Do the same with the other half.
Wipe around the edges if any chocolate escapes the mould.
Leave the first layer of chocolate to set. 
Once the first layer of chocolate is set in the egg mould, pour in another ladleful and swirl the chocolate round again. You'll need to do this three of four times until the egg is thick enough. After the second time you can add the filling. Don't allow the excess to pool in the bottom of the mould – you'll end up with fragile edges and rock-hard centre.
Put the egg halves into the fridge to set. After an hour or two, take them out and gently but firmly pull the corners of the mould – the egg will pop out easily
Using a teaspoon or pastry brush, paint the edges of the two halves with melted chocolate and glue them together. Put the whole egg back in the fridge for 5 or ten minutes to firm up.

Almond Praliné
Vegetable oil cooking spray 
1/2 cup sugar 
1/3 cup  almonds

  • Spray a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray; set aside. Bring sugar and 1/4 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Swirl pan to dissolve sugar. Wash down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush to prevent crystals from forming. Boil until sugar turns light amber, about 7 minutes. Add almonds and salt; cook, stirring constantly, until almonds are toasted and caramel turns dark amber. Pour onto prepared sheet. Let cool completely.
  • Break into shards. Transfer to a food processor; pulse until finely ground with a few larger pieces remaining.

Chocolate Brigadeiro

1 can sweetened condensed milk (395g)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
100g chocolate

Mix the condensed milk, butter and chocolate in a saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly – when the bottom of the pan starts to show and the mixture is a bit thicker, remove from heat
 and set aside to cool.

Sweetened condensed milk coconut

1 can sweetened condensed milk (395g)
200g unsweetened coconut

Mix the condensed milk and coconut in a heavy-bottom saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly – when the bottom of the pan starts to show and the mixture is a bit thicker (20-25 minutes), remove from heat and n set aside to cool.


Marolo Candies and Ice Cream

I forgot to mention before that I’m finishing my doctorate in the field of quantum medicinal chemistry. Substituting the computer simulations for baking and photographing was a big change in my life, and I’m passionate and excited with those discoveries. As I have to return to Brazil to finish the program, I decided to stay in my parent’s house to learn and share with you some typical recipes from my region.

The autumn is beginning in the southern hemisphere. It is also the marolo’s season. Marolo (Annona crassiflora) also known as Araticum is a Brazilian fruit relative of the soursop, cherimoya, and sugar apple fruits. This fruit is fairly large, with highly aromatic pulp. It is native to Central and South America occurring in semi-arid scrub land forests. In Brasil, it occurs between March and April in a tropical savanna ecoregion named Cerrado, mainly in south Minas Gerais. I took the photo below on my uncle’s farm. It is exotic, isn't?

The marolo pulp contain up to 40 black seeds. It is white or reddish in color, aromatic and flavorsome. It has a creamy texture and with a delightful sweet-sour balance. The exterior is grayish green, rough and knobbly. It is eaten mostly fresh and also employed to make liqueur, sweets, ice creams and cakes. The best way for eating it is to split open the fruit, scoop a spoonful of pulp into the mouth, and enjoy the fleshy segments while separating the hard seeds in the mouth. To be honest with you, this fruit is best served as candies, especially using my mother’s marolo candy recipe, which it prepared with dulce de leche. 

The preparation of these sweets it is a little bit dificult. First, it is necessary to remove the seeds from the pulp by cooking with water for 40 minutes, until it form a paste. Then dulce de leche is made combining milk and sugar in a cooper pan. When the dulce de leche is dark caramel, the marolo pulp is added. In this step the mixture needs to be stirred vigorously with a wood spoon. The candies can be creamy and hardy according to the stirring time. The hardy is done when the candy loose from the pan.

This time, beside the candies, I also prepared ice cream. It was the first time that we did this and the result was absolutely fantastic. To prepare it, I mixed the marolo creamy candy, cream and milk.

Marolo Candies
(my mother's recipe)

1 marolo (about 250g without the seeds)
1 cup water
1 kg sugar
2 l milk

Place the pulp and the water in a saucepan and cooking in a medium heat for 40 minutes or until form a paste.
Combine the milk and sugar in a large pan and place over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally with a wood spoon, until the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered at a bare simmer. Stir occasionally, but do not re-incorporate the foam that appears on the top of the mixture. Continue to cook until dark caramel for approximately 2 hours . Add the marolo pulp. In this step the mixture needs to be stirred vigorously. The candies can be creamy and hardy according to the stirring time. The hardy is done when the candy loose from the pan.

Marolo Ice Cream
(how to make without a machine from David Lebovitz)

250g marolo creamy candy
250g cream
450 ml milk

Combine the marolo creamy candy, the cream and milk in a blender and blend until smooth. Put a deep baking dish, or bowl made of plastic, stainless steel or something durable in the freezer, and pour your mixture into it. After forty-five minutes, open the door and check it. As it starts to freeze near the edges, remove it from the freezer and stir it vigorously with a spatula or whisk. Really beat it up and break up any frozen sections. Return to freezer. Continue to check the mixture every 30 minutes, stirring vigorously as it’s freezing. If you have one, you can use a hand-held mixer for best results, or use a stick-blender or hand-held mixer. But since we’re going low-tech here, you can also use just a spatula or a sturdy whisk along with some modest physical effort. Keep checking periodically and stirring while it freezes (by hand or with the electric mixer) until the ice cream is frozen. It will likely take 2-3 hours to be ready. Transfer the ice cream to a covered storage container until ready to serve.


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