What is Conchiglie Pasta?
Conchiglie pasta is a shell-like Italian pasta shape which comes in a range of sizes, from tiny shells for soups to jumbo shells which can be stuffed and baked. The simple and very versatile pasta shape is very popular in many parts of the world for a wide range of dishes. Most grocers stock conchiglie pasta, which may be labeled as “shell pasta” in a reference to the shape. High quality pasta made from good durum wheat will keep essentially indefinitely in a cool dry place, and this particular shape is a handy one to keep around the larder.
Many people find the shape of conchiglie pasta very similar to that of a conch or cowrie, and grooves on the outside of the pasta reinforce this association. Typically, conchiglie pasta is wide in the middle, tapering down to narrow sides. When the shell side of the pasta is flipped, it reveals an opening which runs along the length of the pasta. Because the pasta is hollow and ridged, it is suitable for a wide range of sauces.
The sturdy shape will hold up well under chunky meat and vegetable sauces, while the hollow parts of the shells can act to trap thinner sauces. The pasta is also flavorful plain, with a light sprinkling of olive oil and fresh herbs. In addition to being served with sauce, conchiglie pasta can be baked in casseroles, used as a carrier for macaroni and cheese, added to pasta salad, and included in soups.
When conchiglie pasta is shrunk down, it is known as conchigliette. Conchigliette pasta is great for soups and other dishes where normally sized shells might be overwhelming. Oversized conchiglie pasta designed for stuffing and baking are called conchiglioni, and they can be used like manicotti and other large pasta shapes. The three sizes are usually stocked near each other in the store so that consumers can easily find them.
The best conchiglie pasta is made from hard durum wheat which holds up well through the cooking process. Hard wheats will hold their shape better when boiled and baked, making the pasta shells a sturdy base for casseroles and similar dishes. Many consumers also prefer the mouthfeel of pastas made with hard wheat, since they cook to al dente perfection very well, with a faint resilience to their texture which can be enjoyable. Most pasta packaging clearly indicates what kind of wheat has been used so that consumers can pick out the best pasta for their needs.
I'm the third generation of my Italian family living in the U.S. Before she passed away, my grandmother lived with my parents and I. She used to cook every day and always wanted me to learn Italian. So we would have small cooking and Italian lessons where I watched her cook in the kitchen and she would tell me the tips and cooking secrets that her mother taught her.
I vividly remember one day when she was making conchiglie pasta. She had looked up the word "conchiglie" in an Italian-English dictionary to teach me what it meant. "Seashell! seashell!" she would tell me in her thick Italian accent while she cooked Conchiglie al Forno. It's an amazing pasta dish with lots of cream, cheese and mushrooms.
Whenever I eat or cook conchiglie pasta now, I always remember my grandmother.
Cooking with jumbo conchigle pasta is so much fun! I didn't even know that they come in a variety of sizes until I saw some in an international grocery store.
I prepare it just like I do lasagna, except for the baking part. I make the same lasagna stuffing and stuff each jumbo conchigle pasta with it after boiling them. They are already very large but become even bigger when it's cooked. So it's really easy to stuff. Finally I pour my lasagna sauce on top. It's much easier than lasagna but equally tasty. My husband loves it.
I think some groceries also carry frozen ones. I haven't tried those but I think it could be a nice quick dinner for when you don't have time. Fresh pasta always tastes better though.
Conchiglie has been my favorite type of pasta since childhood. My mom would make a cold pasta salad with it often when we were kids. I think my brother and I were so messy with spaghetti that my mom started picking this up at the store instead.
I use her pasta salad recipe to make the same dish today. It's made with ground beef and yogurt garlic sauce. The best part about it is when the sauce fills the conchiglie pasta and it's a nice tasty surprise when you bite into it. I'm craving some just talking about it!
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