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RBR Tailgating: Stuffed Pasta Shells with an Unexpectedly Meaty Sauce

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This is the second week where we’ve pureed meats, but this time it’s in service to a tomato sauce.

I understand what the Vanderbilt Commodores mean when they say “Anchors Down.” At least I think I do.

I’m guessing that the dropping of an anchor is akin to the planting of a flag. It’s to suggest “This ship is here, and we aren’t going anywhere and you can’t make us leave.” It’s a less committal version of burning bridges, suggesting that the Dores are not planning a retreat, or at least not a hasty one.

Still, back in the niggling bits of my grey matter there’s a few synapses that can’t get over the idea that “Anchors Down” is a close kin to “We’ve put the car in park.” No moving forward, no striving.

Unfortunately for the SEC East, my niggling bits seem to have the lesser side of the argument.

I remember watching Derek Mason’s first game as a head coach. It was a Thursday opening week game and I was football starved so there was very little to detract from a lower tier SEC team against an upper tier lower tier Temple Owl’s squad (that last descriptor felt so faux British: “That’s lower upper middle class, I’d ‘ave you know!”)

What I saw on TV (television) was a head man in way over his head. If I remember correctly, Vanderbilt’s sideline was in disarray. Mason wasn’t so much a deer in headlights as a deer desperately seeking a source of light. It was a disaster.

I wrote him off. Bad hire.

I also assumed that any defense of him was a knee jerk reaction to protect the new guy by the Franklin spurned who were justifiably angry at the new Penn State’s coach recruiting the previously recruited. It wouldn’t be unprecedented. “The King is dead, long live the King.” etc.

Boy was I wrong.

Armed with magnificent hindsight, I just watched Mason’s post game press conference from that incunabular 2014 37-7 ass-whooping at the hands of the Owls. It’s worth your viewing time.

The coach was not uncomfortable, at least not outwardly. His voice was calm with a gravelly edge to it. He’s got a verbal tic where he tosses out “y’know” like Saban does with “a’aight.” There’s a lot of coach speak, but with authoritative delivery. Obviously there were canned responses, but they are heartfelt and considered. I get the sense that he may have rehearsed a few lines, but because they were of substance and apropos. He’s not buying time with a “Polymetis Odysseus” place holder at any point during the eight minute interview.

When asked, “Is this as bad as it gets?” Mason responds, “A loss is a loss.”

He went on, “I don’t feel dejected because this is our first game.” And then, “You don’t excuse bad football. You just… You just gotta make sure that you clean it up.”

He’s pretty well cleaned it up, at least on defense.

As far as I could tell, the only real mistake in the press conference was when a surely-by-this-point-has-been-fired-aide put first an orange Gatorade on the table and then placed a Blue Gatorade right next to it. Those colors don’t go well together. Tacky.

We need to royally screw up this game in order to lose it, but Vanderbilt is on the rise, and it’s cool to watch. So Anchor’s Down, in the meaning that I assume the Dores fans mean, not the one that niggles. Just keep in mind that anchors drag or drift when subjected to particularly powerful tides.

This may be the worst segue I’ve ever done in one of these posts, but: Stuffed Pasta Shells!

There’s no tie to Nashville, Vanderbilt, or anything else having to do with this contest, but they’re really tasty. They’re appropriately divisible into small, crowd pleasing, home viewing party sized servings. I’m willing to bet that by the 4th quarter, more than a single guest will pick one up by hand and stuff it in his or her mouth.

Stuffed Pasta Shells with Cold Cut Tomato Sauce

- 4-5 cloves garlic, smashed

- ½ cup onion, diced

- ½ cup carrot, diced

- ½ cup celery, diced

- 4 oz. assorted cold cuts

- 2 28 oz. cans whole tomatoes

- moderate splash of dry red wine

- pinch red pepper flakes

- 16 oz. ricotta cheese

- 3 oz. spinach or arugula, torn

- 2 eggs

- 1 lb jumbo pasta shells

- 1 small handful fresh basil, chiffonaded (if that’s a word)

- grated Parmesan to taste

The assorted meats I prefer are equal parts Italian salami, cappocolo, and prosciutto. What you’ll see pictured is Spanish salchichon salami, chorizo cantimpalo, and jamon serrano. Those are basically the Iberian counterparts to my Italian prefereds. The idea is to have a peppery, a salty, and a spicy preserved pork.

Saute the vegetables over medium to medium high heat until aromatic.

Slice the meats…

and add to the pot.

Sweat a little fat from the pork and then add the canned tomatoes, torn apart, with their juices.

Add a splash of red wine and the red pepper flakes and turn up heat. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let the flavors come together, about five minutes.

Turn off the heat and puree with an immersion blender. If you don’t have an immersion blender, puree in batches in a food processor or blender.

Add basil. Salt to taste. Set aside.

Boil the pasta shells in heavily salted water. When slightly undercooked - very al dente - drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.

In a large bowl combine the ricotta, spinach or arugula, two eggs, a pinch or three of salt, a few twists of pepper, and mix.

Stuff the shells with an ounce or so of the ricotta mix. You don’t have to measure as that’s basically what they’ll hold.

One 9” x 13” casserole pan will hold the entirety. First coat the bottom of the pan with sauce and then start adding shells. There’s no reason to space them out. These are basically discrete little lasagna bundles. Cram em in there.

Add sauce and bake, uncovered, for fifteen minutes in an oven preheated to 400˚F.

Serve with extra sauce,

but not before taking a plated picture where you forget to wipe the edges of the plate.

So enjoy, no injuries (particularly at LB), and Roll Tide.

I’m pretty confident that we have a win at the end of the day, but I really like the direction this Vanderbilt team is headed in. (Come at me Vandy fans, ye SAT-est of the SEC. I ended a sentence in a preposition and I’m ready to defend my decision.)