Ah, ‘tis February once again – that eerily mystical time of year when ground-dwelling rodents emerge from a subterranean slumber to dominate the media with meteorological prognostication … when the dangling residue of holiday gorging still drapes seductively from our necks and mid-sections … when gently-used resolutions for a just born new year sit nestled back in their packaging, awaiting their inevitable recycling come next January … and when common sense gives way to a groundswell of collective hysteria as every man’s hopes of seeing his girl naked at some point between now and his next anniversary hinge precariously upon a suitable sacrifice of pink and white in appeasement of the industrial complex.
Yes, pitchers and catchers report. Yes, the cosmic rejuvenation of Opening Day draws nearer by the moment. And yes, you heathen Angels fans of schizophrenic geographic designation (Anaheim? LA? South Central? WTF, dude?) have a big year ahead. But do not be fooled!!
Seriously, you still don’t believe me about the corrosive powers of winter’s bleakest harbinger?
Consider then, if you will, the following entirely discrepant philosophies on conscious awareness and theoretical humanism:
But Boss, you say, “I think, therefore I am. I needeth not make bauble-laden offerings to the fairer sex in order to sustain my masculine virility; for my uncompromising identity rides, unbridled, across the plains of liberty and my oats sown at will.” Ladies, gentlemen, I present to you the sound of unsown oats and a single-serve dinner on a very lonely Valentine’s Day.
Like the chubby, diapered cheeks of a winged archer-assassin, for every left, there is a right … and you’d better have plenty of pucker to kiss them BOTH, lest chaos reign throughout the land on a particularly Frigid Fourteenth.
As anybody from Astley to Armstrong, and from Martin to Morgan, will tell you, “You’re nobody ‘til somebody loves you.” And I would dare posit the follow-up presumption that, should somebody decide to UN-love you, you must necessarily flicker out of existence yet again, returning to an inter-existential dimension of hellish nothingness typically reserved for French mimes and Adam Sandler movies.
The male chromosome brings wth it a host of relationship inequities. Such is the burden of rugged manliness … but the bottom line is, we ain’t gettin’ a piece unless we’re keeping the peace. So let’s all just suck it up and play ball before someone gets hurt, shall we?
Yes, my forlorn friends, February is a dark time, indeed … created to confuse and terrify even the most stalwart among us with the icy shrinkage of self-doubt. But fear not, for together we shall replace the pitchforks with dinner forks and swap torches for candlelight and, with any luck at all, we can all enjoy our own happy endings. (oh please, you knew it was coming sooner or later … Ha, see what I did there?)
But how?? One simple word, amigos: gooey, cheesy, wine-y, decadent, color-coordinated Italian awesomeness.
If we can agree on one thing as a species, it’s that Italians are pretty damn sexy…
…and on this most sacred day of hard-earned nookie and shamelessly purchased affections, where better to turn to ensure that each of us holds our own, while not left holding our own? (ok, ok, I’m totally stopping now … for real)
Stuffed Shells in Roasted Garlic and Cabernet Red Sauce
One box pasta shells
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 Tbsp fresh sweet basil, finely chopped
1 Tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1 cup julienne sun-dried tomatoes (rehydrated, if necessary)
16 oz tomato sauce (no salt added)
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1 1/2 cup water
1/2 cup California Cabernet red wine (applied ¼ cup at a time)
2 Tbsp turbinado cane sugar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar (20 year)
One entire head roasted garlic (~12 cloves)(No, it won’t kill the mood. Yes, you’re still getting laid. Shut up and roast.)
32 oz ricotta cheese
3 cups shredded mozzarella
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp black pepper
6 oz baby spinach, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
½ tsp garlic, minced
Pinch of kosher salt
First things first: like any lovesick pazzo looking to tickle the tongue of his ladylove, you’re going to need to roast up some garlic ahead of time. Peel away the excess husk layers and lop the top one-third or so off the top of a medium-sized head to expose the cloves. The easiest option is to place the entire head into a foil-lined muffin tin and drizzle with olive oil and a dash of kosher salt, then cap with another piece of foil and cook for 45 minutes to an hour at 400°. If you’re feeling really ambitious, do the same with a second head and cook them together so you can mash a few cloves over garlic bread later on.
In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium and add your onions, (UN-roasted) garlic, salt and white pepper and sauté until the onions are more than translucent but less than thoroughly browned. A caramelized onion gives this sauce a ton of depth but too dark a brown just kills the subtlety of its other ingredients.
Add your fresh herbs and ¼ cup of the Cabernet, then stir and allow the wine to reduce by about half. This shouldn’t take longer than 30 or 45 seconds. While you’re waiting, feel free to drop down and leave a praise-filled comment about how ridiculously awesome your kitchen smells right now. Seriously. Right down at the bottom there…
Now, add the sun-dried tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, water, sugar and balsamic. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
At the 30-minute mark, add the mashed roasted garlic and give it a stir. Simmer for another 20-30 minutes until the flavors blend. Remove from the heat and allow the sauce to cool, covered, before transferring to the blender. Begin with light pulses of the blender to prevent a buildup of heat from sending sauce EVERYWHERE, then blend it down thoroughly.
BOSS BONUS: If serving over basic pasta, this sauce is just perfect as-is. Top and serve. But for baking a dish of shells, you want to puree it down to a smooth texture so it properly coats and prevents any burnt tips. Ouch.
Cook the shells according to package directions. If you made your own from scratch, then you don’t need my humble help – but I would welcome an invite.
While the shells cook, add olive oil, minced garlic, kosher salt and chopped baby spinach to a pan and wilt gently, then drain between paper towels and set aside to cool.
In a medium bowl, mix your cheese filling by thoroughly blending the ricotta, mozzarella, freshly grated Parmesan, salt and black pepper along with the drained spinach.
With a spoon or spatula, lay down a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of a 9”x13” casserole dish before tightly lining your stuffed shells and finish by layering the remaining sauce smoothly over the top. Cook with a foil cover at 350° for 30-45 minutes or until bubbling, then uncover and cook an additional 10 minutes.
Dessert, of course, is up to you. I really don’t want to know about it.
But if you’re still dead-set on going a different way, there’s always…