December Stuffed Shells

Stuffed shells were a staple of my childhood. I spent many hours helping my mother stuff the gooey, spinachy ricotta mixture into pasta shells. She always covered hers in her amazing, home-made tomato sauce that would infuse itself, after a day or two, into the ribs of the pasta in a way that is still miraculous to me. We would have them year-round, it was an ordinary dish in our house, and yet always a special treat. This take on stuffed shells is quite different, but no less comforting. It's rather heavier, I certainly wouldn't have it in the summer as the rich béchamel evokes a queasiness in just the thought of August heat. Nutmeg is wonderful in anything creamy: it lends the shells a warming, earthy quality that is perfect for a cold, blustery evening. 24 oz fresh Ricotta 1 lb fresh spinach, washed in two changes of salted water 2 eggs 11/2 tsp salt 16 oz large shell pasta 1 1/2 cup whole milk 1 cup heavy cream 1/4 cup butter 1/4 cup flour 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese 1/2 cup grated Fontana cheese generous pinch fresh grated nutmeg salt and pepper to taste

Cook the shells in salted water until al dente, about 5 minutes. Mix the ricotta, eggs, and salt in a mixing bowl. Chop and add the spinach and mix well. Set aside and make the béchamel. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the milk and cream, then whisk in the flour, a little salt, the nutmeg, and the grated cheeses. Allow to bubble gently but not boil. Add more flour or milk to achieve the desired consistency. Your béchamel should not taste floury. Generously stuff each cooked shell with the ricotta mixture and snug up in your 9x9 baking pan. Pour the béchamel over the shells and pop in the oven for 25 to 35 minutes, until golden and bubbling.

Allow to sit for 15 minutes before serving, or make the day before; it's better after it's sat overnight. Serves 4-6.