As you know, the best way for me to come up with interesting and unusual dishes is having friends coming over for dinner. And that’s what happened this time as well.
Initially, the plan was a spinach and ham lasagna. One of my most loved dishes. But with a pack of giant pasta shells (called conchiglioni in Italian) sitting in the pantry, all slightly changed. What about using the same ingredients but in a different version?
INGREDIENTS (serves 4)
- 300g washed fresh spinach
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 150g cooked ham
- 2 x 125g mozzarella cheese
- salt, pepper
- 250g giant pasta shells
- 50g butter
- 4 heaped tablespoons plain flour
- 500ml semi skimmed milk
- grated nutmeg
- 50g parmesan cheese, grated
In a big pan, heat the olive oil and quickly fry the garlic. Tip in the spinach, and let it wilt for a few minutes, adding a pinch of salt to help the leaves release the water. Cook until most of the water has evaporated. Set aside and let cool.
Chop the ham finely using a mezzaluna knife (the best tool to finely chop literally anything), and tip it into a bowl. Finely chop the mozzarella and the spinach and add them to the ham in the bowl. There should be no need for seasoning, but in case the flavour is a bit bland just add a pinch of salt and some pepper.
Cook the pasta shells according to pack instructions. Usually they just need to be pre-boiled for a few minutes to soften them up before stuffing. Drain the water, add a glug of olive oil to prevent them from sticking and set aside to cool down.
Prepare the bechamel sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a very low heat, spoon the flour in while whisking to avoid lumps and once it’s all added, pour in the milk little by little. Remember to keep on whisking until the sauce starts to thicken up, then tip in the grated nutmeg and the salt to taste (a more exhaustive description with tips can be found here).
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C fan/190°C static/Gas Mark 5. Spoon a generous amount of bechamel sauce at the bottom of a baking tray. With a tablespoon, stuff the pasta shells and place them in the baking tray next to one another.
Once the tray is full, spoon the rest of the bechamel sauce over the pasta to cover it all. Sprinkle the parmesan on top, and cover tightly with tin foil. Bake covered for 40 minutes, then remove the foil and leave to cook for further 10 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.