These Veal Shells with Marsala and Vermouth were inspired by a delicious lunch my brother served one New Year’s day many years ago.
He made it with manicotti but I find Jumbo Shells easier to stuff. The signature seasonings and Vermouth/Marsala are all mine! I think the combination of the veal, spirits, tomatoes and spices qualify for a umami bomb!
Perhaps not everyone keeps Vermouth or Marsala in their pantry but I think they are worth investing in. They are an integral part of the flavour profile of the veal and there are many recipes and drinks that you can use them in.
In this dish the veal seasonings are the top note of the flavour. The tomato sauce is a complement and should not overpower the dish. I have shown San Marzano tomatoes as an optional addition to the pasta sauce. I grow my own San Marzanos in the summer and routinely freeze them by the baggie full. I throw a cup or so into many sauces and soups and they brighten the flavour of any sauce. I have bought canned San Marzano tomatoes at Costco which also work well. I use Primo’s Hot and Spicy and Hunt’s Spicy Red Pepper Sauce, whichever I have on hand. Note if you choose to add San Marzano tomatoes you will have extra sauce left over. Freeze it and use it on another pasta dish- do not drench the shells in tomato sauce!
For the cheese you can substitute Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorina Romano.
This recipe is very forgiving. You can prepare and serve right away, hold overnight in the fridge or freeze and reheat from frozen. How good is that?
The recipe makes 4 servings but I usually double it because my Costco sells ground veal in 2 pound containers and since it freezes so well I can cook once and eat twice, or invite friends and share! This recipe has the distinction to date that everyone who has been served it has asked for the recipe, which has been in my head until this point!
When you are sautéing the veal it is important to use a large frying pan so the liquid evaporates. I use a 10 inch pan for 4 servings and a 12 inch if I double the recipe. It is also important to break up the veal as it cooks so it is uniformly loose with no chunks. The shells openings are not that big so a chunk of meat will not work well when stuffing. It is also important not to overcook the veal in the first sauté…it can be slightly pink when you add the spices. You will sauté a further 5 or 6 minutes when adding the spices and the spirits and then it will go in the oven.
Handle the pasta shells gently when adding to the water and when rinsing. I drop them into the boiling water a couple at a time. Sometimes you can see the shell has a hairline crack in its dry form…that will be exaggerated after boiling. A badly torn shell doesn’t hold the filling well or look very nice. Don’t waste them but you will want to tuck them among the intact shells to disguise them if serving to company. You will want to time the shells to be done about the same time the veal is cool enough to work with. If you cook the shells too early and they sit, even with rinsing, they will start to stick together and then all your gentle handling will be for naught!
Adding olive oil to the pasta water is usually discouraged in other pasta dishes because it stops the sauce from sticking to the pasta. In this case the shells are sitting on a bed of sauce. The oil helps keep the shells from sticking so in this case I would recommend adding it. After the shells are arranged in the casserole dish and you top each shell with a spoonful of sauce the veal mixture will hold it in place.
I served this dish with a lovely Italian inspired salad –Melon and Crispy Prosciutto Salad.
Wine Pairing for Veal Shells With Marsala and Vermouth
I would honour the Italian heritage of this dish. A restrained Primitivo would work well. For white I would recommend something medium bodied and rich like a good quality Lugano or Soave. See the full wine tasting notes for the 3 wines I sampled with this lovely light meal!
- 1 lb ground veal
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion finely diced
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 2 Tbsp Extra Dry Vermouth I used Stock
- 2 Tbsp Marsala –Fine, Dry I used Sperone
- 1 can Primo Hot & Spicy pasta sauce 680 ml
- 3/4 cup San Marzano tomatoes (optional)
- 1 pkg Jumbo Pasta Shells (I used Unico)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 4 quarts water
- 1/4 cup Gran Padano at room temperature
- Basil or parsley according to taste (optional)
- Add salt to water for pasta and set over high heat on the stove. Allow it come to a boil while you prepare the Filling. Do not put pasta in the water until the Filling has been removed from heat to cool. (You do not want shells to sit waiting for filling or they will stick together.)
- Heat oil in large frying pan.
- Add onion and saute until translucent, 5-7 minutes.
- Add veal and saute until almost brown, approx 5 minutes. Stir often to ensure there are no chunks of meat. Do not overcook.
- Mix Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg, Salt and Pepper in a small dish. Sprinkle evenly over the veal and allow spices to ‘toast’ with meat for 2-3 minutes. Stir well.
- Combine Vermouth and Marsala in small cup and pour evenly over veal. Allow mixture to continue cooking 2-3 minutes, stirring well. Remove meat mixture from heat and allow to cool.
- In a food processor blend Primo Pasta sauce and San Marzano tomatoes, if using.
- Ensure pasta water is brought back to a full boil and add the Olive oil . Gently add jumbo shells. I plan for 4 shells per person with 4 extra since they can tear quite easily. Cook 10-12 minutes, until just flexible. Do not overcook.
- Drain shells in a colander when done and immediately rinse gently with cold water.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees if serving right away.
- Spray a 9X13 pan with cooking spray.
- Spread a thin layer of pasta sauce over bottom of the pan (approx 1- 1/2 cups).
- Fill shells individually with approx 2 Tbsps of meat filling each, arranging on sauce in pan. If there is any leftover meat mixture add it to the remaining sauce.
- Top each shell with a spoonful of remaining sauce. Do not ‘drench’ shells in sauce. If using San Marzano optional tomatoes you may have some sauce left over.
- Grate Gran Padano sauce over shells.
- Bake for 25 minutes til warm through and cheese is melted.