Sunday, January 13, 2013

Christmas Dinner

2012 was a stinker. Too much heartache and too much loss. My Beloved's girls lost their mother 'way too early, among other tragedies. They weren't feeling the traditional Christmas spirit at all, so they decamped to Florida's beaches.  Luckily, we have cousins in the area, delightful ones named Sherry and Jan, and we all spent time over the holidays together.

Sherry threw a party for a bunch of her gal pals - an ornament exchange that resulted in lots of laughter and fun. Jan invited us to her annual stocking party - we all brought stocking stuffers for each other's stockings and chuckled as we opened all the silly little gifts after a delicious dinner served at a beautifully set table.

They also came to Christmas dinner at our house, along with an old pal of mine whom I met in boarding school in France when we were high school kids. We weren't in the mood for turkey or roast beef, the traditional kinds of meals. But it was chilly and pouring cats and dogs, so we all wanted something warming. I remembered a recipe for stuffed shells that I got many years ago from an Italian friend and it seemed perfect for the occasion.

My favorite part of just about any meal is setting the table, and this time was no exception. I had seasonal flowers as a centerpiece, candles in pretty crystal candlesticks, and red silk Christmas roses as napkin rings on the snowy damask napkins. I used my mother's gold-rimmed bone china and my real silver - it was lovely, if I do say so myself.

And the shells were delicious, so good that everyone ate a little too much of those and Sherry's Caesar salad, as is proper on Christmas. The cheese filling was both rich and fresh with parsley, the tomato sauce deeply flavorful and studded with nuggets of spicy sausage.

We ended up having a super time, toasting with champagne our newest family member, who was born on the 21st, and getting a little giddy. Nice to have something positive to celebrate at the end of that crummy year. We set up the camera on a tripod and took a picture of the celebrants: My Beloved with his harem.

McBride's Italian Shells

12" spicy Italian sausage
olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
30 oz can tomato sauce with bits
30 oz can tomato puree
Fresh oregano, chopped
Italian herbs

1 package large shell pasta

16 oz ricotta cheese
l egg
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, grated
1 Tbs of Italian parsley, chopped
salt, pepper

This is one of those approximate recipes, where you can add or subtract as you like. You can use more or less parsley, more or less garlic, etc.  Go with your gut.

Squeeze out small, bite-sized dollops of sausage from their casings into a medium-hot frying pan slicked with olive oil. They will make their own rendered fat, so you don't need much oil to keep them from sticking. Brown thoroughly, turning to brown all sides.  Add the garlic for a quick sizzle, then the tomato sauce and puree, and any Italian herbs that you like - I used fresh oregano. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes.

In a big pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until it is nearly "al dente," but don't overcook or they will be harder to handle and may break apart. Drain and let cool a bit, separated so they don't stick together.

Meanwhile, mix the ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella and parsley together until evenly distributed. Taking a tablespoon at a time, stuff into the shells so they are full but still curling over the filling. Set aside. You will use most of the box, as some will be broken.

In a large oven pan, slick the bottom with a thin layer of sauce, then place the shells, open side up, in the pan side-by-side. Pour the remaining sauce over them all and bake in a 350 degree F oven for about 30 minutes, covered with foil. Uncover for the last 10 minutes. 


Blogger Diane said...

setting the table is my favorite part of the meal too...I love selecting the right combination of plates, colors, a simple centerpiece....and my family teases catsup bottles or soda cans! hoping 2013 is a good one.

Sunday, January 13, 2013  
Blogger nancy namaste said...

What a beautiful description of your friends, the feast, the table. This one is a keeper for your book - you DO realize that, don't you?

Sunday, January 13, 2013  
Anonymous jann said...

It was a gorgeous table and the dinner was killer. GREAT way to celebrate Christmas. Thank you so much!

Sunday, January 13, 2013  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Diane, it's the artist in you that enjoys that part. And BRAVA! for not letting catsup bottles or soda cans on the table, too!

Nancy, thanks for your always-kind words. You make my day.

Jann, so glad you enjoyed it all. You certainly added to our Christmas fun!

Monday, January 14, 2013  
Blogger Greg said...

Buzz Lucky! Hope 2013 is a great one.

Monday, January 14, 2013  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Thanks, Greg. And right back at ya!

Monday, January 14, 2013  

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