Every Halloween in years past, I have made the family favorite  –  Blood and Guts.

It’s a fabulous dish of white cheesed filled extra-large pasta shells swimming in a sea of marinara.

Some people call it stuffed shells. On a cold Halloween night, after hours of traversing the streets in search of candy, our kids find it to be the warming dish of their dreams.

A few weeks ago, two of our four kids were home. When the menu choice was released, a third one somehow made it home for supper.

It is a meal I make occasionally because it is a lot of work. I don’t make the sauce from scratch but I do stuff the shells individually. That can be close to 70 shells.

So where do I start? I get the ingredients. This is for a smaller batch but you can double it if desired. I normally start by making the filling.

16 oz Ricotta

2 cups Shredded Mozzarella

1 cup shredded Parmesan

1 package cooked spinach (thaw and drain of extra liguid. Squeeze water out if necessary)

2 eggs

I mix these together in a bowl by hand. You can refrigerate and use the next day. I tend to make it the same day. You need to squeeze the spinach because the freezing process leaves a lot of water. You don’t want the filling to be too watery. I get it about half squeezed out.

½ pound of ground meat or Italian Sausage

1-2 16 oz jar of marinara – your choice.

I tend to fry the meat while getting other parts of the meal ready but not the filling because the hands get too messy. I get the water for the pasta going. I open the marinara jar(s). I get out the 13×9 pan(s).  I pour just enough marinara in my first pan to cover the bottom. Then I scatter the cooked meat on top of that marinara cover.

1-2 boxes of Barilla extra large shells.

Here is where the magic happens. Pre-heat the oven to 350. Once the water is a rolling boil, I start by putting in 10-12 shells in at a time. Boil them for six minutes, just enough to soften. Put them in your colander after 6 minutes. While they are cooling in the colander, put 10-12 shells in the water. Add water as needed.

While those shells are boiling, start filling the shells that have been cooling. I use a teaspoon to ease the filling into each shell. Some will be tighter than others. Nor do you want the shells to be too soft. Once filled place each shell in your pan. I like to make a tight fit as I fill the pan.

Keep boiling and filling until you have no more filling. If you have more filled shells than will fit into one pan, prepare another baking dish that will fit the amount you have left. If you make a double batch, you are going to fill another 13×9. If not, you might be doing a 9×6.

Once all the shells are filled and in the pan, use your marinara to cover each shell. You can do this as thick or thin as you like. The more you put on, the more sauce you need on hand. Sprinkle mozzarella on top.

Place in the oven for 30 minutes. You can make the salad, get your garlic bread ready, force others to set the table. This would be a good time for a glass of wine if you so choose.

Once those thirty minutes are up, remove the pan(s) from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. I place the pans on the table with trivets or hot pads underneath. While the blood and guts are cooling, I get the garlic bread in the oven. My husband will cut the bread when it’s ready.

Now you get to eat this concoction. It is messy and tasty. Some people put on a little more parmesan at the table, others do not.

Sometimes I play with the recipe and add garlic powder or other spices to the mixture. Most of the time I eyeball the mozzarella. No matter what, this is the most asked for dish for Halloween besides my Chicken Riggie. Yes, it takes time – -about an hour for the stuffing alone.

But it is one of those dishes that is always worth it and seldom has leftovers.