What I love about this dish is the way the bechamel sauce gives it a silky and rich feeling, even though it's low in fat.
Here are the ingredients you'll need to begin:
- 2 large cans of whole, peeled tomatoes (I use Hunt's, since I found them at the dollar store recently- what a bargain!)
- 1 small can of tomato paste
- 4 turkey sausages (sweet italian or spicy, whichever you prefer)
- 1 box of large-sized shells
- 2 cloves of garlic, smashed OR 1 shallot, minced
- fresh basil
- 1 1/2 cup ricotta cheese (go full fat if you're feeling indulgent, otherwise, the low fat works fine)
- 1 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese (Precious is my favorite, and I buy it whole and shred it to cut costs)
- 3/4 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese (always go with this over parmesan, when available)
- 1 egg
- 1 cup of reduced fat milk
- 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour
- olive oil, salt & pepper, sugar to taste
- Heating a saucepan over medium-high, add a few counts of olive oil in and let it get nice and hot.
- Add in either the garlic or the shallots and stir to get the flavor and oils out, but don't let it burn.
- Add in the tomato paste and stir until the oil takes on an orange-red color.
- Add in the whole tomatoes and their juices. (You have the option here to pull out the seeds and core or just throw them in whole. The seeds can make your sauce taste bitter, but most of the time, I just compensate with some sugar and I'm done with it. You can also substitute your favorite jarred sauce- I love Rao's- and save some time and energy.)
- Adjust the temperature to medium-low and get a skillet warmed up over medium heat. Remove the turkey sausage from its casing and brown in the pan. Set aside to cool.
- Get your water boiling for the shells.
- In a mixing bowl, add the mozzarella cheese, the ricotta and the sausage meat and then add the egg.
- When the shells are al dente (this means that they still have a good bite to them versus being soggy and overcooked), drain them, but do not rinse.
- In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat and then whisk in the flour. You are creating a roux, which builds a base for the bechamel sauce. After a few minutes of constant whisking, add in the milk and continue to stir. You will notice that as the temperature rises, the sauce thickens. It should easily coat the back of a spoon. If it is too thick, add a little bit more of the milk.
- To assemble the dish, place a layer of tomato sauce at the bottom. Fill the shells with the cheese/meat mixture and place them seam side down in the sauce. Then top them with more tomato sauce and drizzle the bechamel sauce over that. Finish it off with the grated cheese.
- Cover with tin foil and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes.
This is what it looks like assembled, prior to baking:
You can assemble the dish and refrigerate it for up to 4 days OR you can freeze it for up to two months. I tend to make two separate servings and eat one for dinner that night and then freeze one for later on in the month.
I'll post a picture of the finished product after I bake it for dinner!