Shells are the perfect vehicle for the artichoke filling (browned butter, artichoke hearts and lots of cheese) and traditional bechamel sauce is amped up with lemon and ricotta. Don't let the bechamel sauce intimidate you --- it has a French name, but is one of the easiest sauces to make. Melt butter, whisk in flour then milk and whisk until it thickens. That's it. So easy. The bechamel is a wonderful creamy sauce that pairs perfectly with the pasta. Cook the pasta and make the filling early in the dinner to save time. This is a one pot + one baking dish meal which feeds a crowd and has minimal cleanup. A great, easy family friendly dinner.
- For the Shells:
- 18 jumbo pasta shells (about half of a 12 ounce box)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 1 large onion, diced
- 12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and patted dry
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- ½ cup finely grated Romano cheese
- ½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 2 large egg yoks
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Salt and Pepper
- For the Sauce:
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ cup ricotta cheese
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- salt and pepper
- Freshly chopped Italian-leaf parsley, to garnish
Cook the Pasta
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Once the water is boiling, generously salt the water and add the pasta. Cook the shells until they are al dente, about 3 minutes less than what is recommended on the package. Drain and toss with a drizzle of olive oil to prevent the shells from sticking together.
For the Filling
Melt the butter in the same pot you cooked the pasta. Cook the butter until it turns golden brown and smells nutty, stirring occasionally. Once it’s nice and golden, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, then the onion and cook until the onion is lightly brown and caramelized, about 5-7 minutes. Add the artichoke hearts, and cook until they are softened a bit, about 5 minutes. Add the wine, and cook until it evaporates, about 5-8 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat, cook the mixture slightly, then transfer to the bowl of a food processor. Add both cheeses, egg yolks, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pulse until it’s the consistency you like. If you want to hide the artichokes from picky eaters, pulse until it becomes smooth. You can also leave the mixture coarser. It will work either way!
Make the Sauce
Wipe out the same pot you used to cook the pasta and filling. That is what I love about this dish – 3 steps, but 1 pot. Less cleanup afterwards! Melt the butter over medium-high heat. Once it’s melted, whisk in flour and continue to whisk until it’s smooth and fully incorporated. Cook for an additional 1-2 minutes, to cook off any flour flavor. You want the flour the thicken the sauce, but not add flavor. Add the milk about ½ cup at a time, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Once all the milk is added, add the garlic and bring the sauce to a boil, stirring frequently. The sauce will immediately begin to thicken once it boils. Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the ricotta, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more lemon juice, salt or pepper.
To Assemble the dish:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Pour 2 cups of sauce into the bottom of a 9 by 13 inch glass baking dish. Pick up one shell, scoop 1 tablespoon if filling into the shell and then place the filled shell, filling side up, in the baking dish. The filling shouldn’t be overflowing from the shells, but all the sides to close a bit. Continue filling each shell and adding each filled shell to the baking dish until you have filled all the shells. Spoon a spoonful of the remaining sauce over each shell.
Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for another 15 minutes.
Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.
Recipe from Smitten Kitchen