James Villas, Southerner and pimento cheese expert, wrote in his indispensable cookbook Crazy for Casseroles that he does not “recommend freezing any baked casserole that contains potatoes, rice, or pasta, all of which will lose most of their texture.” I suppose then the only explanation for chicken tetrazzini (which in my experience is only ever made to be frozen) is that the pasta never has much texture to begin with, but I digress.
Fortunately for all of us the Dorky Yankees at America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Country spent untold hours in the kitchen figuring out a way to freeze stuffed shells without the pasta losing any texture or taste. Which is good, because stuffed shells are super fiddly to make but also super delicious. So I can have a crazy busy day running around town and still pull out a dinner that makes my husband clap for joy when he gets home and realizes what’s for supper.
Make Ahead Stuffed Shells
Adapted from Cook’s Country. Makes 2 8×8 pans of shells, each pan serves 4.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 minced garlic cloves
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar*
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 c low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tbsp dried basil
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 12 oz box jumbo pasta shells
- 3 c ricotta cheese
- 1 c grated Parmesan
- 3 c shredded mozzarella
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- 1/4 c finely chopped fresh basil
- 2 large eggs plus 2 yolks, lightly beaten
- For the sauce: Heat oil, garlic, and pepper flakes over med heat until fragrant. Add vinegars and simmer until reduced by half. Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- For the shells: Bring big pot of water to boil. Add salt and shells and cook 12-14 minutes until tender. Drain and cool. Set aside 30 shells, reserving any that are broken. (Or just set them all aside and count out 30 as you go- I do this as I tend to break a shell or two in the process.)
- Put 1 cup of cooled marinara at the bottom of each of two 8 inch square baking pans.
- Combine ricotta, Parmesan, 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, garlic, basil, eggs and 1/2 tsp salt in bowl. Scoop into a big ziploc and cut the corner off. Squeeze into the shells, putting each shell seam-side up in a baking pan til each pan has 15 filled shells in it. Then top each pan with another 1 1/2 cups marinara. Wrap each dish w/plastic and cover with foil. Divide remaining sauce in half and put in freezable containers, do the same with remaining mozzarella. Freeze it all.
- The Day You’re Going to Cook them: The morning of defrost shells, sauce, and cheese in fridge for 8 hours. (One of each if you’re serving 4, both if you are serving 8.) When ready to cook, heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove plastic from shells and replace foil. Bake until bubbly, about 50 minutes. Remove foil and top w/reserved sauce and cheese. Bake until spotty brown, about 10 minutes. Cool 15 minutes. And enjoy.
*Original recipe calls for 1/4 cup red wine. I find I usually have good results substituting a mixture of red wine vinegar+extra chicken broth.
(Edited to add that googling chicken tetrazinni recipes leads me to one I am definitely going to try as soon as I stop laughing over the comment “I use rotel and velveeta cheese in place of parmesean.” No offense, rotel and velveeta cheese.)