Monday, April 12, 2010

Stuffed Pasta Shells

Like I've said earlier, we love pasta here at our house. We have several staples we go through on a pretty regular basis, and I always have plenty of dry pasta stashed away in the pantry; I stock up when it goes on sale. I don't think there's anything worse than a pantry without pasta in it. It can be such an easy and quick meal when you've had a hectic day. I know it's a big no-no for the carb-conscious, but I don't care. It's delicious.

One of our favorite staples is stuffed shells. I love stuffed pastas, and one of the challenges I will (eventually) do here will be to make ravioli from scratch. But for now, I'm going to satisfy myself with these stuffed shells with spinach and ricotta. I originally tried a recipe for stuffed shells from the Favorites cookbook by the Ivory Family, but I was sorely disappointed. I think the recipe must have had a typo because the spinach to ricotta cheese ratio was backwards: if I remember correctly, it called for 2 boxes of chopped spinach and only 1 carton of ricotta. I like spinach as much as the next gal, but that was WAY too much. Since, I've tried basing recipes off the recipes on the back of the pasta boxes and have had much better luck. But, I haven't looked at a box in a long time, so I have no idea how much my recipe resembles those recipes and I usually just improvise and throw stuff in the bowl. I kept track this time, for the recipe, and below is basically what I do every time, give or take here or there.

I really enjoy cooking for people, and if dinner parties didn't make me so exhausted, I would have a lot more. But dinner parties mean not only cooking more food than I usually do, but also thoroughly cleaning the house, which is rarely in hosting condition. But, I do like to make dinner for friends, especially for birthdays. I personally believe that no woman should EVER have to cook on her birthday, and I try to make sure my closest friends don't have to. I made this for some friends once for such a birthday occasion, and found out later that the wife did not care for Italian food in general, but she really enjoyed this pasta. I attributed it to the fact that I typically use homemade tomato sauce from garden tomatoes (that I freeze so I can have it all year). So, make sure you use a marinara you enjoy (it doesn't have to be homemade, though); it can really make this dish.

Stuffed Pasta Shells
Printable Recipe

1 box jumbo pasta shells
3 cups ricotta cheese (low fat is fine)
1/2 box frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 egg
2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Italian herbs (I always use Provencal herbs)
1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground if possible
2-3 cups marinara sauce

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. Do NOT overcook. Drain, rinse, and set aside.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta, spinach, egg, 1 cup mozzarella, parmesan, herbs, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine.

Spread 1 cup marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 pan. Fill the pasta with the spinach-cheese mixture and arrange in the pan. Pour the remaining sauce on top of the stuffed shells (1 cup for a little, 2 cups if you prefer a lot of sauce) and top with remaining mozzarella. Cover with foil and bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes.

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