In seeking out new, tasty recipes, you'll probably find that constantly whipping up rich and creamy foods gets old pretty fast. Sometimes you just want something a little lighter, and this spinach and ricotta-parmesan stuffed shells is just the meal. I'll admit, it requires a considerable amount of prep and cooking time, but it's got plenty of easy-to-use ingredients that make the time whiz by. I found this recipe on EatingWell.com, but added extra ingredients here and there to achieve the tomato-laden, cheesy goodness of a gourmet baked pasta.
Serves: 6-7 Prep/cook time: 1.5-2 hours
Ingredients: 24 jumbo pasta shells, (8 ounces) 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil 2 onions, finely chopped 2 pounds fresh, trimmed spinach, or two 10-oz packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed 2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1 large egg white, lightly beaten 4 cups prepared marinara sauce, or two 8-oz jars 1 cup plain dry breadcrumbs Salt and pepper, to taste Optional: 1 can diced tomatoes with 1 teaspoon of sugar (if you want more marinara sauce)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In the meantime, boil water for your pasta, and be sure to add a few tablespoons of salt just before you drop the pasta shells in. Cook shells until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside.
2. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chopped onions and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Then add the spinach and toss to mix well, seasoning with a pinch of salt and pepper. If you're using fresh spinach, be sure to drain the excess moisture after you've washed and trimmed it. Then add it in batches, adding more as the cooked spinach wilts. Let cool and set aside.
3. Mix all the ricotta, breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup Parmesan and nutmeg in a bowl. Add your cooked onions and spinach and season with salt and pepper. Stir in egg white.
4. Stuff each the reserved shells with a generous 2 tablespoons of your cheesy-and-veggie filling.
5. Spread 1 1/2 cups marinara sauce at the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange the stuffed shells in a single layer. Top with the remaining 2 1/2 cups of the sauce and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake until the top has a nice, golden crust, about 30-35 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.
My Notes: Mine vs. EatingWell's: EatingWell has a ton of really great recipes -- you can search by low-sodium, low-carb, heart-healthy, you name it, it's there -- but some of them are too dry for my liking. I prefer pasta with a rich, hearty marinara sauce, and with the sharp, salty bite of Parmesan cheese. I added extra of both, and made sure to season my onion and spinach with salt and pepper. I also used more breadcrumbs for more crunch.
More marinara? If you really can't get enough marinara sauce, try adding a small jar of diced tomatoes to the mix. Make sure you counter the bitterness of the tomatoes with a teaspoon of sugar. A whole extra jar of prepared sauce is too much as it isn't likely to fit in your baking dish and would drown out the taste of the cheese.