Saturday, October 27, 2012

Baked Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells

The first and only time I've ever had stuffed shells was when I was about 12. I spent one week of that summer with a friend at her grandparent's cottage on a lake in northern MI. We goofed around swimming (her like a fish, me like an old arthritic dog with a density problem), attempted skiing, rode a tandem bike, played cards, canoed, and swam some more. And between all that fun, we ate. Girlfriend's g-ma could make some mean stuffed shells!

The original recipe suggested tossing the cooked shells in oil, likely to prevent them from sticking to each other. I figured out a work-around for that. The quantity of spinach was increased by a couple of ounces simply because it came in a 10-oz package. The marinara was replaced with the Basic Tomato Sauce. Finally, I skipped the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese altogether.

Baked Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells
adapted from Whole Foods Market recipes
click to print

16-18 jumbo pasta shells, about 6 oz.
10 oz baby spinach
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
8 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
8 oz part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated, divided
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp chopped basil
1 1/2 c Basic Tomato Sauce

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta shells and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain well then place them on a baking sheet or dish such that they don't touch each other; set aside.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Put spinach into a large skillet. Cover and cook over medium low heat, tossing occasionally, until just wilted; drain well. When cool enough to handle, squeeze to remove any excess water.

If your spinach leaves are dry, add a teaspoon or two of water so they steam and wilt.

Place garlic, ricotta, 6 ounces mozzarella, egg and basil in medium bowl. Chop spinach and combine with ricotta mixture to make the filling.

Spread a few spoonfuls of marinara sauce in the bottom of a shallow baking dish large enough to hold the shells in a single layer.

I used a 7x11" baking dish.

Fill each shell with spinach mixture and arrange in the dish.

Cup a shell in your palm and pinch the narrow ends toward each other. This will cause the shell the "open" giving you ample room to spoon or scoop filling into the pocket. When you release your pinch grip, the shell will naturally try to close over the filling. The original recipe figured you'd stuff 16 shells. I cooked a couple extra in case they broke or tore. I wound up stuffing 17; the last shell was torn.

Pour remaining sauce over and around the stuffed shells and top with remaining 2 ounces of mozzarella.

Cover with foil and bake until hot throughout, 20 to 30 minutes, then uncover and continue baking about 10 minutes more or until golden brown.

Hmm. My cheese didn't brown.

While not as good as those I remember from when I was a kid (but really, none will ever be that good), these were still great - enough to cause me to ask myself why I never tried making them before. They are sort of like lasagna pockets. And food like this makes me totally forget there's no meat in it.

The Basic Tomato Sauce worked very well in this dish. It had a little bit of a tart tomato kick but didn't overwhelm the other flavors. The cheese really stood out and made the dish seem really decadent. You definitely don't want to forget to chop the spinach like I did. Wilted baby spinach, when whole, will try to choke you.

  • jumbo pasta shells: $1.30
  • baby spinach: $1.49
  • garlic: $0.08
  • ricotta cheese: $1.75
  • mozzarella cheese: $2
  • egg: $0.35
  • basil: MINE
  • Basic Tomato Sauce: $1.50
Total: $8.47 or about $2.13 for each of four servings.