Looking for a dish with Wow- Factor? Sausage and Eggplant-Stuffed Shells in a Tomato-Basil Cream Sauce is just the thing! This dish isn't for beginner cooks, but it's certainly worth the effort . . .
The following dish is not a quickie dish to make, nor is it the cheapest dish to prepare. We were given several large eggplants and I was looking for something interesting and different to use them in. I also happened to have some leftover ricotta and fresh spinach on hand, so this dish really hit the spot for us. If you don't have any heavy cream on hand you can substitute 3 cups of milk and 1 1/2 sticks of Real Butter instead.
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
2 cups chopped onion
1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 7 cups cubed)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 cup ricotta or mascarpone cheese
12 ounces fresh spinach, blanched, squeezed dry, and chopped (about 2/3 cup chopped)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 (12-ounce) package jumbo pasta shells (about 18 shells)
2 cups Italian crushed tomatoes
3 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves or 1 Tbs Dried Basil
4 ounces coarsely grated fontina cheese or mozzarella
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta shells until just al dente, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water and pat the shells dry or place them in a salad spinner and spin them to remove excess water.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large heavy skillet and then saute the sausage until golden brown. As it cooks, use a spatula to break in into smaller bite size chunks. Add half of the diced onions and all of the eggplant, seasoning it with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, then cook for 4 to 6 minutes. The vegetables should be lightly caramelized and very soft.
Add 1 tablespoon garlic and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and transfer the hot mixture to a large bowl to cool.
When the mixture has cooled to room temperature, stir in the ricotta or mascarpone cheese, spinach, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and sugar. Stir to combine well.
Lightly grease a deep 9 by 13-inch casserole or lasagna pan, Stuff the pasta shells with the sausage-eggplant mixture and place in the prepared casserole dish. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat and saute the remaining diced onions until translucent, then add the remaining tablespoon of garlic and cook an additional 1 to 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Stirring constantly, add the heavy cream, then reduce the heat to medium-low cook until the sauce is reduced in volume by about 1/3, about 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Add the basil to the sauce and pour the sauce over the shells in the casserole dish.
Sprinkle with the fontina or mozzarella cheese and the remaining Parmesan. Cover the casserole tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the sauce is lightly browned in spots and bubbly around the edges, about 15 minutes longer. Let set for about 10 minutes before serving.