Today, we celebrate moms, mother figures and those who gave and continue to give us life.
As part of this special day, it seems only fitting to announce the arrival of a new occasional feature, a twist on Local Flavor Gives Back featuring employees of Times-Shamrock Communications, publisher of The Sunday Times.
For each recipe by an employee or their family member, a $50 gift card to Riccardo’s Market, 1219 Wheeler Ave., Dunmore, will be donated to St. Francis of Assisi Kitchen, Scranton.
And there’s no more appropriate way to kick off the series than with Dickson City resident Cathy Mazur — aka my mom — and her coveted recipe for Stuffed Shells.
The recipe originates before my brother, Gary, was born and long before I came along, when my parents were first married. Growing up with an Italian family, my mom was used to Stuffed Shells served filled with ricotta cheese, but my dad, Frank, was never a fan of the cheese-stuffed variety. One day, mom found a recipe for stuffed shells with ground beef on the back of the pasta box.
“I had never seen it before, but I decided to give it a try since he was looking for meat-stuffed shells,” she said. “I’ve been making it ever since.”
The recipe is simple and quick. Mom advised cooks not to boil the shells for longer than 12 minutes because when the shells are too soft, they tend to fall apart. Cooks also can make this recipe their own. Stuffed Shells are my brother’s favorite meal, and since he prefers to eat a bit healthier now, his wife, Maria, makes the shells with ground turkey. Also, cooks are more than welcome to use homemade sauce. Mom knows many others frown upon jar sauce, but we’ve always liked the way it tasted better.
“There’s plenty of recipes where there’s nothing like homemade sauce, but (stuffed shells) seem to come out better with (jar sauce),” she said.
When she was growing up, Mom and her sisters — Mary Ellen, Patty and Nancy — were surrounded by fabulous cooks, including their mother, the late Catherine H. Errico. Their father, the late Gary Errico, was used to Italian meals, and her Irish and German mother needed to learn those Old World recipes.
My mother didn’t start to build up her own menu of meals until she had a family. Prior to retirement, she was a school librarian for 34 years at Mid Valley Elementary Center. She needed to create quick dinners every night that also could be microwaved later to suit our different schedules. Go-tos included Wimpies (my favorite); Cream of Mushroom Chicken with Noodles; Baked Ziti, using her sister Nancy’s homemade sauce; Chicken Parmesan; Pork Chops; and Roast Beef with all the fixings. Mom still makes her mother’s recipe for homemade sauce and meatballs, too.
“That reminds me of being a kid,” she said. “It reminds me of her.”
That’s one of the best parts about recipes. They instantly bring back memories of happy times and the people we love.
When I taste Stuffed Shells, it reminds me of being a little girl. After working all day, my mom would make dinner while helping us with homework or coordinating meals around our packed schedules. Like most moms, she somehow fit this all in between about 100 other duties.
“You’ll do anything for your kids,” she said.
Being a mom is one of the toughest jobs on the planet, and while it was (and still is) stressful for my mother at times, my brother and I can only remember her love.
Our moms and mother figures give us unwavering, unconditional love and support. Mom’s meals are special because she’s the one who made them with all of her heart.
“I love to make whatever my kids like because that makes me happy,” my mother said. “My kids are my life.”
Cathy Mazur’s Stuffed Shells
1 box large pasta shells
1 to 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1/2 cup seasoned Italian bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 ounces shredded mozzarella
1 large egg
2 (24-ounce) jars Prego meat-flavored pasta sauce
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
Pinch of oregano
Boil 16 to 18 shells for 12 minutes and then drain.
In separate bowl, place ground beef. Add egg and all dry ingredients.
In a pan, brown mixture and drain.
On a paper towel, fill shells with meat mixture. Cover bottom of large baking dish with layer of sauce. Place shells in baking dish and add 6 ounces shredded cheese. Leaving room on top of dish, pour another layer of sauce. Place remaining mozzarella on top. Cover with foil and bake at 350 F for 35 minutes or until cheese is melted.
Gia Mazur is an award-winning staff writer and beauty obsessive who joined The Times-Tribune’s Lifestyles department in 2015. She’s a product enthusiast who can’t live without an eyelash curler. A proud Virgo, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Pillow Talk is her go-to. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9127; @gmazurTT