Thursday, October 11, 2012

Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells

Mmmm, there is nothing that says comfort like baked pasta.  My friend Callie made me these Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells shortly after the clever girl was born.  What a gift!  Not only was it delicious but it was so wonderful to have an amazing dinner brought to me at a time when I really needed the help!  My neighborhood has a similar plan for moms with new babies.  We sign up to bring them meals every other day for the first 3 weeks.  After receiving such help from my friends, I have to help the neighborhood ladies!  So, after my friend Susan recently had her third baby, I signed up on her schedule and made Callie's stuffed shells.

The recipe is something Callie created so feel free to tweak it any way you like!  And as you can see from the photo, it makes a TON.  It is hard to tell, but there are approximately 15 shells in both the 8-inch square pan and the aluminum round pan, and about 7 or 8 in the small loaf pan in the back.  The thing is, with a box of pasta shells, either you make the whole box and have a bunch of shells, or the box will sit half full in my pantry and take up space.  I'd rather fill my freezer with a ready-made dinner than have the half-full box in my pantry!

Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells
1 package Jumbo Shell Pasta
extra virgin olive oil
2 jars of your favorite pasta sauce.  If you don't have a favorite, here is my solution:  buy Classico Marinara or Tomato and Basil, dump it in a bowl, and add Worcestershire sauce, italian seasoning, fresh basil and oregano, fresh ground pepper, and whatever else you think tastes good.  Voila, yummy "jarred" sauce!
2 small containers part-skim ricotta cheese
small package of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed
6 oz grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
2+ garlic cloves, pressed
mozzarella cheese (I used approximately 3 cups in this batch)

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Boil the pasta to al dente.  In a medium bowl, mix the spinach, ricotta, Parmesan, garlic, eggs, and a couple of handfuls of mozzarella.  Spray baking dishes with non-stick cooking spray. 
 Drain the pasta, reserving some of the pasta cooking water, and allow it to cool enough to handle.  This shouldn't take long.  I do not recommend running cool water over the pasta to speed this process.  When you do this, you remove some of the starch from the outside of the noodles, and the starch is what helps the sauce to adhere to the noodle.  Instead, just let the noodles cool off and if they end up sticking to each other a bit, pour some of the reserved pasta water over the noodles to help loosen them back up.
Fill the pasta shells with the cheese and spinach mixture and place them seam side down in the casserole dish(es).  Pour some marinara sauce over the noodles and top with another handful or so of mozzarella cheese.
Bake covered for about 20 minutes or until bubbly.  Uncover and bake a little more to brown the top.
Printable Recipe

I brought this to my friend with a loaf of cheesy garlic bread, a tossed salad, and some freshly baked brownies.   I hope she and her husband enjoyed an easy dinner night, and the entire family enjoyed the bounty.  We certainly did!

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