conchiglioni with beef ragu
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I have a confession to make: I made the filling for these conchiglioni as a beef chili. Mexican beef chili, though not particularly hot or spicy.
Fusion? Cultural appropriation? Perhaps, but please note that actually the main difference between a beef ragu and beef chili is the type of seasoning and soupiness. I skipped the cumin (can’t stand the stuff though do normally add everything by the book when working through recipes) and dropped just a smidgen of chilli paste into the pan. Let’s face it: both dishes are probably not far off Scottish mince and tatties, sans the tatties.
There are only so many things you can do with minced meat; and depending on whereabouts you are, the flavourings, additions and textures will change subject to available produce. Wontons are filled with prawns; pierogis with cabbage. Risotto has Parmesan on top; and paella – smoked paprika. Noodles were brought to Italy with Marco Polo and potatoes to Ireland with Sir Walter Raleigh.
My point is that it’s all food at the end of the day. Maybe if we don’t call things by their proper names we can avoid attacks like the ones Jamie Oliver and his paella suffered. Slap things together, make use of those silly list-like dish names that some restaurants adopt and you won’t be trolled by militant Bolognans (Bologneri?) shaking their girarisos at you.
That’s it then: scratch conchiglioni. Delete ragu. It’s now jumbo pasta shells with beef filling. Phew.
conchiglioni with beef raguServings: 4 as a starter, 2 as a main courseTime: about an hour and a half
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 200g (2 cups) cherry tomatoes
- 1 tsp fine salt
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves smashed and chopped roughly
- 250g (½ pound) minced beef
- 1 tbsp. sea salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 2-3 large fleshy tomatoes, diced (or ½ tin of chopped tomatoes)
- 150g (5 oz.) conchiglioni (giant pasta shells)
- 30g (2 tbsp.) Parmesan
- 100g (3 oz.) grated cooking mozzarella or provolone
Heat up 1 tbsp. of oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Scorch the cherry tomatoes in the oil tossing on all sides and smash them with the back of a wooden spoon. Season with the salt and paprika and scrape them all into a large baking dish, large enough to fit the shells in a single layer – the shells will sit on the smashed tomatoes.
To make the beef ragu filling, heat up another tbsp. of oil in the same pan. Add the onion and sweat over medium heat until softened but not coloured. Add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the beef mince and turn up the heat. Cook, breaking up the clumps with a fork until it is evenly coloured. Season with salt and pepper and add the diced tomatoes. Cook for about 10-15 minutes until the liquid evaporates and the sauce thickens. Take the beef off the heat and let it cool down while the pasta is cooking.
Cook the pasta shells in plenty of salted water for exactly half the time advised on the package; usually it will be about 6 minutes. Drain them and rinse with cold water, drizzle with a little olive oil and leave them on a colander or a tray to drain – turned upside down if you can be bothered.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. When the pasta and the filling are cool enough to handle, stir half the grated parmesan into the beef ragu. Fill the shells with about a spoonful of the filling each and place in the dish on the smashed tomatoes. Top with mozzarella, pushing it into the shells. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan.
Bake for 30 minutes until the shells are scorched and crispy. Let it stand for at least 10 minutes before serving.