Cheese & Spinach Stuffed Shells

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I had such a great weekend!  Very relaxing.  Well…relaxing minus my 9 mile long run on Saturday morning.  That wasn’t exactly what I’d call “relaxing and restorative.”  But besides that, it was a perfect few days.  Especially Sunday – Dario, his brother and their friend went sailing during the afternoon.  So Medo and I had the house all to ourselves!  Cooking shows reigned on TV and I puttered around in the kitchen for a few hours.

Stuffed Shells, vegetarian recipes, Italian recipes, healthy recipes, baked shells

Stuffed Shells, vegetarian recipes, Italian recipes, healthy recipes, baked shells I knew the boys would be coming home semi-frozen (it was in the 40’s here!), tired and starving from a few hours of sailing out on the Potomac.  A nice warm meal (with enough servings for seconds and thirds) was just what they needed.  Or at least…what I thought they needed.  I went with a huge tray of cheese and spinach stuffed shells, a nice caesar salad, and a delicious apple crisp for dessert.  From the lack of leftovers, I’d say the meal got an A+.

Stuffed Shells, vegetarian recipes, Italian recipes, healthy recipes, baked shells

Stuffed Shells, vegetarian recipes, Italian recipes, healthy recipes, baked shells Baked shells are on of my go-to dishes when feeding a crowd.  It can be made in advance.  It stores nicely in the fridge.  You can freeze it for up to 6 months.  And it’s an easy one dish meal day of.  Plus, it’s pasta…filled with cheese….topped with sauce and more cheese and baked.  You really can’t go wrong with that, right?

Stuffed Shells, vegetarian recipes, Italian recipes, healthy recipes, baked shells

Stuffed Shells, vegetarian recipes, Italian recipes, healthy recipes, baked shells Although baked shells are a fairly easy dish to make, there are a few tricks I’ve learned over the years that take this dish from good to AMAZING!  And make the recipe pretty much fail proof.  Check it out:

  • Under-cook the pasta.  This is the absolute most important thing to do – with any baked pasta dish in fact!  You want to under cook the shells because you’ll be baking them later for a pretty long time (well 40 mins).  So they’ll continue to soften.  But when you bake the under cooked shells, they’ll end up being perfectly al dente when ready to eat!
  • Generously season the filling.  It can be hard to get a large amount of filling seasoned perfectly.  So taste frequently and don’t be afraid to add a little extra salt or pepper.  A bland filling will really kill the whole dish.  So don’t be afraid to season aggressively!
  • Keep it lean.  To keep the calories in check, I do half ricotta cheese and half fat-free cottage cheese for the filling.  The cottage cheese is nice and creamy when it melts but with very little calories.  Makes the dish deceptively decadent!
  • Don’t boil the shells, simmer them.  If you get your pasta water to a rapid boil, it can be a pretty harsh environment for the somewhat delicate pasta shells.  I bring my water to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer.  That way, the shells don’t rip or tear.

stuffedshells14 Cheese & Spinach Stuffed Shells:
Ingredients:

  • 1 12 oz box jumbo shells
  • 10 oz ricotta cheese
  • 8 oz fat-free cottage cheese
  • 1 lb frozen spinach, drained well and then finely chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 pepper
  • 1/2 red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 + 1/2 c parmesan cheese

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Cook shells for about 6 minutes or just shy of being al dente.  Drain in a colander and immediately rinse with running cold water to stop the cooking.
  3. While the shells cool, assemble the filling and prepare baking dish.
  4. In a large 9×13″ baking dish, evenly spread out about 1 cup of the tomato sauce – the whole bottom of the pan should be coated liberally.
  5. In a large bowl, add the ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, spinach, egg, nutmeg, lemon juice, salt, pepper and red pepper.  Stir until completely combined.  Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
  6. Fill each shell with a generous 1-2 tbsp of filling.  Don’t over fill, or else all the cheese will ooze out while the shells bake in the oven.
  7. Line the shells up in rows in the pan.  Top with the remaining tomato sauce so all the shells are covered.  Sprinkle evenly with mozzarella cheese and remaining parmesan cheese.  Cover with aluminum foil and baked for about 40 minutes or until warmed through.
  8. Remove foil and bake under the broiler for another 3-5 minutes or until cheese is golden brown on top.  Serve warm!

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