Garlic is magical.
Many cultures believe it to hold mystical powers that ward off evil and disease, and for good reason, as the antioxidant and vitamin-rich bulbs provide excellent nutrition for minimal effort in cultivation and storage.
Medieval Europeans would hang ropes of dried garlic on their doors to protect the inhabitants from the mythical monsters that might come in the night to drain the blood of the living. We now know this was likely associated with the fear of rabies, which was sometimes transmitted by vampiric bats, and for those who were infected would cause extreme sensitivity to pungent smells, like garlic.
With spooky season upon us, this is the perfect time to load up on this tasty aromatic to keep the bloodsuckers at bay. My recipe for stuffed shells is positively loaded with garlic and the roasted red pepper sauce adds a smoky kick.
3 heads garlic
1 box jumbo shells
32 ounces ricotta
2 cups fresh spinach, blanched and chopped
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt to taste
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
For the sauce:
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 red bell peppers
2 cups chicken stock
1 white onion
1 large carrot
1 bay leaf
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt to taste
Peel off just the outer layers of paper from the garlic, keeping the bulbs whole. Cut the bulbs in half across the equator, drizzle with olive oil (making sure some oil seeps down between the cloves) and wrap in foil. Roast in a 400-degree oven for 45 minutes and allow to cool completely.
Thoroughly wash your red bell peppers and either char over your gas range (if you have one) or char under the broiler (rotating frequently) until all sides are black, then immediately put into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
Allow the peppers to steam and cool completely before peeling some (not all) of the charred skin off and removing the stem and seeds. The more charred skin you leave on, the smokier the final sauce will be.
Roughly chop the onion, carrot and roasted peppers and put into medium saucepan.
Drizzle over your olive oil and saute over medium-high heat for 5 minutes before adding your tomato sauce, bay leaf, and chicken stock. If the liquid doesn’t reach the top of the vegetables, add water until it does.
Boil until the liquid is nearly gone and the vegetables are soft. You can keep adding water and boiling down until the vegetables are soft enough to blend.
Remove the bay leaf and either transfer to a blender or use an immersion blender to puree until completely smooth. Season with paprika and salt.
Boil your shells according to the instructions, drain, and allow to cool just enough to handle.
While the shells are cooling, squeeze the roasted garlic out of its paper into a mixing bowl and mash into a paste.
Add your nutmeg, spinach, and ricotta, and mix. Taste and season with salt.
Use a spoon to fill each shell with the ricotta mixture and then arrange, open side up, into a single layer in a baking dish.
Cover the shells with your sauce and put into a 350-degree oven for 20-25 minutes.
These shells are very rich and dense, so I suggest serving with a fresh salad for a balanced meal. If you left too much charred skin on your peppers and find your sauce is too bitter, you can add a bit of sugar to fix it.
Garlic may not really protect us from vampires, but the vitamins and antioxidants contained are certainly good for the blood and can help boost your immune system to fight off the real monsters around us. So let’s pop a few bulbs in the oven and cast a healing spell over our homes in the spirit of the season.