I was walking down the grocery aisle and a bag of rigatoni caught my eye. It made me think of the many baked pasta casseroles I’ve had throughout my life. It also made me think of stuffed shells.
What if I made a variation of stuff shells but used rigatoni instead? But how would I stuff them? Aha! Use a piping tip.*
And, what if this weren’t a giant-sized American main dish, but rather a more elegant first course? In Italian, this is known as a primi piatti, a first dish, with the main dish to follow. With this philosophy and portion control, you could have pasta every day if you wanted and not gain any weight.
Instead of just pasta on a plate, I stood these upright for dramatic effect. To keep them bundled together I did two variations. First I used a long zucchini ribbon, and second, a scallion tied into loop. Both worked beautifully. Give them both a try.
As variations, you could even use long ribbons of eggplant or carrots, but you would have to par bake eggplant or boil carrots first to soften them enough to form a loop.
*Note: If you don’t have any piping tips, I encourage you to invest in some. They’re only about two dollars each. Most grocery store sell them in the baking section. And you can just use an ordinary bag, no need to buy anything special.
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Playing Dress Up with Stuffed Rigatoni
- 3 cups dried rigatoni (about 8 ounces/half a pound)
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1/2 recipe (2 cups) pantry tomato sauce
- 8-9 scallions and/or one zucchini
- 1 large egg
- 1 -2 tablespoons chopped mixed herbs (I use a mix of fresh oregano, parsley, thyme and rosemary)
- 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt (not table salt), plus extra for pasta water
- Preheat oven to 350F (175C)
- Fill a large pot with 4 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of sea or kosher salt. Bring to a rapid boil
- Finely chop herbs
- Beat egg and add to ricotta, chopped herbs and salt. Mix thoroughly
- Fill ricotta mixture in a pastry bag (or any clean, strong bag, with a pastry tip that will fit into the rigatoni
- Boil rigatoni for only HALF the amount list on package (about 6-7 minutes). This should be very al dente, as it will finish cooking in the oven
- Drain the pasta and gently stir in two tablespoons of the tomato sauce to keep it from sticking. Let cool until you can easily handle it. (Do not rinse or use oil on your pasta!)
- Cut off roots from scallions. Tie into a loose loop and fasten with a toothpick. Alternatively, slice (or use mandolin) a zucchini into long thin ribbons. They should be thin enough so that they are pliable without breaking
- Fill each scallion or zucchini loop with rigatoni (standing up vertically)
- Fill each rigatoni with the ricotta mixture (using your bag and piping tip)
- Place 2-3 tablespoons of tomato sauce into an 8 X 8 inch (20 X 20 cm) baking dish, just to lightly cover
- Transfer each bundle to the baking dish. Be sure to support the bottom while transferring
- When the baking dish is filled with the bundles, spoon in more tomato sauce until it reaches half way up the rigatoni
- Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the tops of each bundle
- Cover with tented foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes.
- Plate and serve each bundle with extra tomato sauce. Be sure to remove the toothpicks