Stuffed Shells

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This stuffed shell recipe is a variation of my favorite lasagna recipe, which highlights spinach and a three cheese blend of ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella. For the boys, I’ll often add in sweet Italian sausage, but truly, they love it either way. Contrary to popular belief, stuffed shells are neither time nor labor intensive. Once you get the first couple knocked out, the process moves really quickly. As a bonus, you can bake half and freeze half for a future dinner. Not that half a pan would last around here, but I always prefer stuff that freezes well.
Alright, here are our ingredients:
1 pkg. jumbo pasta shells
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 lb. sweet Italian sausage (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
15 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese
10 oz. chopped frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1 jar tomato sauce
1 tsp. oregano
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook your shells according to package directions, but leave them a bit al dente since they will cook further in the oven. Once the shells are done, rinse them briefly with cold water to stop the cooking process and drain them well.
While the shells are cooking, saute your onion in a bit of olive oil. If you want to add the sausage, throw that in with the onion and cook until it’s no longer pink. If you’re omitting the sausage, skip that step, but in either case, add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.
In a separate bowl, combine 3/4 cup mozzarella, 1/4 cup grated Parm and your ricotta. Add in your drained spinach, your beaten egg and your oregano. Also, add salt and pepper liberally (but use less salt if you’ve added the sausage). There’s nothing worse than under-seasoned pasta dishes. Okay, so maybe world hunger and global warming are worse things, but you get the point.
Add your saute mixture to the cheese and spinach mixture and mix well. Now, you’re ready to assemble the shells. Pour about 1 cup of pasta sauce in the bottom of your baking dish. Next, grab a shell, hold it open and using a spoon (or your hands) add in the filling until it’s full. Rocket science, right? Then, just put it in the dish and continue to the next one. Nestle the shells close together so that they all stand upright.
Once they’re all full and happily sitting in the baking dish, pour the rest of the pasta sauce over the top making sure to coat the shells. Then, wrap the baking dish tightly in foil and bake for 30 minutes. Once the 30 minutes are up, remove the foil and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of Parm and 1/4 cup of mozzarella over the top and pop it back in the oven for 15 minutes.
The smell of these shells baking is amazing. By the time that it’s almost ready, the Irishman is hovering in the kitchen waiting for dinner. Once they’re done, let them cool for about 5-10 minutes so that there are no scalded tongues and then enjoy.
Oh, and the best thing about stuffed shells is that nobody in my house minds eating them two days in a row, so tonight, I get to kick back with a beer and enjoy the fruits of my (minimal) labor.
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