Sunday, May 16, 2010


This one comes with an island story for you all...

Grocery shopping in St Thomas is always an adventure.  I have learned to menu plan a few days ahead of time.  More often than not, if you are looking for 10 items, the store you are in will have 9.  And there is no pattern to that 10th item.  One time it will be a staple (flour), next time a specialty item (red food coloring) and everything in between.  Hamburger, fish, milk, spaghetti sauce, Parmesan cheese, bananas, and more have been on my shopping list and not at the store.  Next day, shelfs are full of the item and something new on the list is out of stock.

Strange world; but it is an everyday part of island life.  Just plan your menu a few days ahead of time, and you are shopping for that rd or 4th days worth of supplies, not same day.


Yesterday it was giant (stuff-able) pasta shells that were out of stock.  Generally that would be a water off a duck's back problem, as they stock giant pasta shells, and I am pretty sure that they would be available next time I came in.  But yesterday was different.  I REALLY wanted giant pasta shells.

My darling wife had asked for a specific recipe.  She never asks for something specific.  She may ask for a fish recipe, or more vegetables or something to wash the wine down (love those nights).  But yesterday for some reason she wanted a particular stuffed giant shell recipe.

And let me address just the guys reading this for a minute... If you are ever lucky enough to be married to the love of your life, AND that love of your life gets a temporary job assignment to St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, AND that love of your life with the temp job in St Thomas brings you along and your only job is to sun tan and cook, AND that love of yours, with the island job that takes you along to cook for her asks for a recipe that calls for stuffed shells... do it.

So, now I have a couple of choices... Go to a different store (miles away, bus ride and aggravation), disappoint my wife and make the recipe another day (she deserves better) - or, make a pasta cake with the same ingredients as in her stuffed shell recipe but with a more fun presentation.

It really is easy, comes together fast and makes a great presentation...

Here's what I did...

1 Box Rigatoni, cooked VERY al dente
some raw Spinach, washed, stems removed
1 pound spicy Italian Sausage, browned
1 tub of Ricotta Cheese
14 ounce jar of Marinara Sauce
1 pound of shredded Mozarella Cheese, divided

Make do with what you have.  The original version of this recipe calls for the meal to be made in a springform cake pan.  So you build the layers from the bottom up.  I do not have a springform  cake pan here.  I do have an odd shaped pan that is mostly flat on the bottom.  But the sides do not easily remove like a springform pan.  So, i decided to try an upside down cake, build the layers from the top up and flip when the cake is cooked.

Put your rigatoni on to boil.  This is important, you want the pasta underdone.  The box says 10-12 minutes.  I cooked mine only 6 minutes.  It was perfect for what I wanted, which was cooked pasta, but still retains it's shape.  You will see why in a minute...

Meanwhile, I browned the sausage, and layered the bottom of my pan with the sausage.  I added a thick layer of spinach (it will cook down thin when the cake is done).

Next stand up the barely cooked rigatoni.  

Next up, you want to stuff the shells with the ricotta cheese.  Using a pastry bag with a long tip would work great.  My pastry bag with long tip is in Kansas.  I put the cheese is a ziplock bag, cut just a tiny end of one corner and squeezed a bit into each shell.  Worked fine.

Next, I added a layer of Mozzarella Cheese.  This layer of cheese will hold the whole thing together when it cools, and is very important.  Be sure to put a good bit around the edges. 

Add the Marinara Sauce over the top and spread it around.  As the cake cooks, the sauce will blend into the ricotta cheese and ooze into the shells nicely.

Pop this into a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

The grease from the sausage will keep it from sticking, but the sides need to have a knife sliced around the sides so it pops out easily...

Put a plate on it, flip over and viola 

I did add at least 1/2 a pound of Mozzarella Cheese, and pop that under the broiler till the cheese melted.

Same ingredients, same proportions, probably tasted the same as the recipe Jackie wanted.  I hope I didn't disappoint.

It really is easy, and very dramatic looking... And best of all, incredibly tasty!

BTW, I modified a recipe from Cathy at the NOBLE PIG to make this. On New year's Day, she did a recap of the 10 best recipes from her site. #1 was this PASTA CAKE (her's is the photo to the right).   BTW, you can find her top 10 by clicking HERE.

Her top ten are all winners!


  1. I don't know who's luckier, you or your wife!

  2. If I were Jackie, I would be dying of happiness upon eating this! All of that cheese, and time and effort you put in. Just amazing.

  3. I remember seeing this on Noble Pig and drooling over it. Thanks for reminding me that I wanted to make this.

    Your re-creation looks awesome! Well done! And way to be a good husband too : )

  4. Neat idea! Good looking presentation...

  5. Great looking pasta dish - both you and Jackie are extremely lucky to have each other!

  6. That's so awesome, Dave!!! I'm drooling over here.

  7. Now THAT is fun Dave! Mike had been craving pasta and I think I will make this for him when we can have pasta again!

  8. Wow this looks wonderful Dave! I could go for a slice of that right now!

  9. That looks like a lot of work, but it sounds like your wife deserves it. My kinda cake!

  10. GREAT!!! idea! I LOVE!!! the presentation. This is a must try.

  11. I also remember seeing that when Noble Pig posted it and thinking that it sounded delicious (and also like a lot of work!)

    Your adaptation looks great Dave. I think you did a wonderful job for your lovely and lucky wife!

  12. This looks absolutely delicious!! You culinary master , you!

  13. What a lucky wife and you're such a sweetie for going that extra mile to please her! Looks scrumptious, cher!

  14. Gawd that looks good Dave! It's been too long since I've had pasta!

  15. Way to save the day, Dave! Exceptional thinking on your feet. The final result looks amazingly good, the love of your life should be thrilled:)

  16. wah very creative! Looks so amazing!

  17. What a fun presentation. I love this!