Stuffed Shells with 4 Different Kinds of Cheese, Chili Smoked Salmon, and Chimichurri Sauce
This recipe for Stuffed Shells is sponsored by Mahon Menorca.
Friends. Today we are going to talk about one of my favorite things in the whole wide world: Cheese.
I should preface this discussion by saying that I’m not really a “favorites” person. I hate questions like, “What’s your favorite movie?” or “What’s your favorite color?” Worst of all – “What’s your favorite food?”
My favorite thing at any given time depends on what I’m in the mood for – especially when it comes to food. I could tell you what sounds really good right now… but don’t ask me to choose my favorite.
Declaring a favorite is just so final. It makes me feel boxed in. And, feeling boxed in does not bring out the best in me. (Understatement of the century.)
And yet… I did just write a sentence declaring cheese as one of my favorite things.
I can make such a statement with no regrets because cheese is one of the few things in life I would be truly devastated about giving up. If for some strange reason, I could never eat potato chips again, my life would go on completely unaffected. But, take away cheese and I fail to see the point in getting up in the morning.
Ok. That may be a bit overdramatic. (No, it’s not.) If I had to, I’m confident of my ability to live a happy life without cheese. (No… Not really.) There are so many other good things in life that I probably wouldn’t even miss cheese all that much. (Totally lying now.)
I’m never giving up cheese.
I feel very strongly that NO ONE should ever have to live a life without cheese.
So, you can probably guess how I responded when the folks at Mahon Menorca said, “Hey, can we send you some cheese and will you make a delicious holiday inspired recipe with it?”
After (a bit too excitedly) shouting “YES!!!” into the phone and realizing I’d never heard of Mahon Menorca, I got online to find out what I’d just agreed to. The cheese comes from Menorca, one of Spain’s Balearic islands in the Mediterranean Sea.
Menorca looks like this…
… prompting me to send the following (totally reasonable) request: Dear Mahon Menorca cheesemakers… I don’t believe I can properly experience all the delicious nuances in the magnificent flavors of your cheese if I’m not eating it on one of your beaches. Rather than sending the cheese to me, perhaps you should bring me to the cheese.
Just kidding. I didn’t actually ask. I just wanted to.
The island contains a network of small family farms in which cattle freely graze. (Some cows have all the luck.) Interestingly, the grazing cows have contributed to an ecological balance resulting in UNESCO declaring Menorca a Biosphere Reserve.
And that’s where Mahon Menorca cheese comes from. Happily grazing cows on a gorgeous, protected Mediterranean island.
As you might expect, cheese made in paradise is delicious.
I received a package of three Mahon Menorca cheeses: cured (3 months), semi-cured (6 months), and artisan (raw milk 6 months) Mahon PDO cheese. They are ALL delectable.
When the package arrived, I cut small pieces of each for myself, my husband, and my two teenage daughters. Then I had to hide the cheese in the butter drawer so that there would be enough left to make these stuffed shells. Speaking of which…
Let’s talk about these four cheese stuffed shells for a moment, shall we?
Jumbo pasta shells are stuffed with ricotta, a blend of all three Mahon-Menorca cheeses, garlic, spices, and chili smoked salmon. They are then smothered with a LOT more cheese before being covered in cream sauce and spicy bread crumbs. And, just to guild the lily, the cheesy shells are served with Chimichurri sauce.
Ok, people. If I have any credibility with you at all whatsoever, trust me when I tell you that you NEED these cheese stuffed shells on your holiday table.
It’s one those dishes that begs for special occasions that are all about relaxing into the pleasure of great food shared with people you love.
Four Cheese Stuffed Shells with Smoked Salmon Recipe Notes:
I would never begrudge you the right to make these decadent stuffed shells on any old Wednesday, but for most of us, this is the type of dish that gets made on special occasions. It involves decadent ingredients befitting dinner party celebrations, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and the like. Those occasions for which you’re more than willing to spend a bit more money and indulge in a few more calories than your average weekday supper.
Having said that, this is a rich dish. Plan on serving only two or three shells per person as a main dish, or just one shell per person as a starter. The recipe can easily be halved or doubled. If making half the recipe, use a 9-inch square baking dish. If doubling the amount, use two 9×13 inch dishes.
The stuffed shells can be assembled in advance.
I am the kind of hostess who wants to enjoy her guests and not be stuck in the kitchen when they arrive. So, every dinner party dish I serve can be made at least somewhat in advance. These stuffed shells are no exception.
You can assemble the entire dish – cream sauce and bread crumbs included – up to 24 hours ahead of time, covered in the refrigerator. Allow the dish to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking and then pop it in the oven.
The Chimichurri Sauce can also be made up to 24 hours in advance. Store it in a covered container in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
There are several components to these stuffed shells, but they come together in a flash.
Ok. “In a flash” is relative. I just don’t want you to look at the various components in the recipe and think that it’s super complicated. If you look at the recipe, you’ll notice how many times the instructions say something like, “dump everything into a bowl and mix.” The whole dish can be assembled in about an hour.
Use any combination of Mahon-Menorca cheese.
Having three varieties of Mahon-Menorca cheese on hand, I used them all, shredding each and then tossing them together. The combination of cured, semi-cured, and raw milk cheese is fantastic. But, if you’d prefer to use just one or two varieties, go for it. Your stuffed shells will still knock the socks of everyone you serve them to.
In the USA, Mahon-Menorca cheese can be found at: Fairway, West Side Market, Gourmet Garage, Saveway, Whole Foods (nationally), Kroger, Costco, Central Markets, Central and Town & Country Markets.
FOR THE CHIMICHURRI SAUCE:
- 1 cup packed fresh Italian parsley
- 1 cup packed fresh cilantro
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tsp garlic, minced
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp salt
FOR THE BREAD CRUMB TOPPING:
- 3 slices sturdy white bread
- ½ cup shredded Mahon-Menorca cheese
- ½ tsp each: salt, black pepper, chili powder
FOR THE STUFFED SHELL FILLING:
- 30 oz whole milk ricotta cheese
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup shredded Mahon-Menorca cheese
- 1 tbsp garlic, minced
- 1 tsp each: ground cumin, Spanish smoked paprika, crushed red pepper, salt, black pepper
- ½ lb (approximately 9oz) chili smoked salmon (or any smoked salmon)
FOR THE CHEESE AND CREAM SAUCE:
- 2 ½ tbsp. all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp each salt and pepper
- Pinch of ground cayenne pepper
- 3 ½ tbsp. butter
- 3 ¼ cups heavy cream
- 18 oz shredded Mahon-Menorca cheese
- Add 5 quarts of water and 1 tbsp salt to a large sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Add pasta shells and cook for 8 minutes, until slightly underdone. Drain and immediately rinse in cold water to stop the past from cooking. Spread the shells out on a clean kitchen towel, open sides down, and allow to drain.
- Butter a 3 quart (9×13 inch) baking dish and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
MAKE THE CHIMICHURI SAUCE:
- Add all Chimichurri sauce ingredients to a food processor and process until blended, approximately 30 seconds. Pour sauce into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate.
MAKE THE BREAD CRUMB TOPPING:
- Add all the bread crumb topping ingredients to a food processor and pulse until the ingredients are combined and the bread is chopped into fine bread crumbs. Dump into a bowl and cover until ready to use.
PREPARE THE STUFFED SHELL FILLING AND FILL THE SHELLS:
- Add all the filling ingredients, except the salmon, to a large bowl and stir to combine.
- Stuff each shell with a heaping 1 tbsp of filling and place in buttered baking dish. You’ll have to really pack the shells in to the baking dish to fit all 32. Lay the shells in eight rows of four, pointy ends overlapping slightly to fit them all in the pan.
- Distribute pieces of salmon evenly over the ricotta filling in each shell, pressing the salmon gently into the filling.
MAKE THE CREAM SAUCE:
- Mix the flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a small bowl, and have at the ready.
- Add the butter to a medium size saucepan and heat over medium to melt. Add the flour mixture to the butter and cook, stirring constantly, for 20 seconds.
- Gradually whisk in the cream and cook until the mixture comes to a simmer. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, for one minute. Remove from the heat.
- Distribute 18 oz grated Mahon-Menorca cheese evenly over the top of the stuffed shells.
- Pour the cream sauce evenly over the cheese-topped shells.
BAKE AND SERVE:
- Sprinkle the bread crumbs in an even layer over the top of the cream sauce.
- Place the baking dish on a baking sheet (to catch any sauce or cheese that might bubble over the sides of the pan) and bake the shells for 30-40 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling around the edges of the pan. After about 25 minutes of cooking, keep a close eye on the bread crumb topping. If it appears to be getting too brown, cover loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil to prevent burning.
- Remove from the oven and allow to sit 5 minutes before serving.
- Serve with the chimichurri sauce on the side. (Note: Each serving needs only a teaspoon or two of chimichurri sauce. More can overwhelm the flavors in the stuffed shells.)
A big THANKS to Mahon-Menorca for partnering with me on this post and making these Stuffed Shells a reality.
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