I cannot believe that I have never posted a baked stuffed shells recipe, ever?! It is one of those classic Italian dishes that so many families love! I was going through the grocery store aisles on Saturday, for our big weekly shop, and these big pasta shells caught my eye. Then I said, "self, why aren't you cooking more of this?". I picked it up and decided that was going to dinner that night! Now my hubby and I don't like to eat a lot of high calorie meals, but I don't like to avoid it altogether either. Hey, I grew up on this type of stuff I gotta have it sometimes! So in short, my family loved it! including my picky eater mom. My mom said that it reminded her of the family dinners we had at nice Italian restaurants from years ago. Although I know she was being kind (because I couldn't compare to the nice Italian restaurants) it was truly an amazing comforting meal, sure to please any palate. Make this tonight folks, it is sure to bring on tons of smiles!

Serves 4

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F

Baking time: 20-25 minutes

Ingredients for sauce:
  • 1 lb medium or large pasta shells
  • 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • a good pinch of: dried basil and oregano
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2-3 chicken/turkey/pork sausages, without casings (meat optional)
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced.
  • half pint white or cremini mushrooms, minced
  • 1 can (28 oz) of diced tomatoes
  • 2-3 tbsp herbed tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp white sugar
  • 1/2 cup (or so) of water/stock (or more as needed)
  • handful of fresh parsley, chopped finely

Ingredients for filling and assembly:
  • 1 cup (or a small tub) of light ricotta
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 pkg of chopped frozen spinach, thawed and water squeezed out.
  • coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • small pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
  • Melting cheese (i.e. Mozzarella, Italian cheese blend or cheddar - your choice)

1. Put on a large pot of boiling water, salt the water, and add in the pasta shells. Cook as per package instructions. It should take about 10-12 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to avoid sticking.

2. Preheat a large shallow heavy bottom pan, on medium high heat. Add in the garlic, onion, dried herbs, salt, pepper, and sausages out of their casings (if using). Break up the sausages using a wooden cooking spoon. Cook for 3 minutes.

3. Add in the diced zucchini, carrot and mushrooms. Saute for a good 5 minutes to cook the vegetables down and to release the natural juices.

4. Pour in the can of diced tomatoes, and add in the tomato paste, sugar and water. Stir to combine the ingredients. Turn the heat down to a simmer. Place the lid on with a slight opening, and gently simmer for a good 10-15 minutes. You want the sauce to thicken. Note: if your sauce is too thick, add in a bit more water or stock to loosen the sauce. Turn the heat off once done and stir in the fresh chopped parsley.

5. Shell Assembly: Preheat the oven to 400 F and line a large casserole baking dish with parchment paper to avoid burning or sticking. Pour a good amount of the tomato sauce on the bottom to coat and set aside for now.

6. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, egg, chopped spinach, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and Parmesan cheese. Take the cooked pasta shells that were set aside, and start to fill them. I like to only put in one spoonful of the ricotta mixture for each pasta shell. As you fill them, place them each into the prepared baking dish. Do not overlap them, place each shell right beside each other.

7. After you fill each shell, ladle sauce all over the filled shells and sprinkle your choice of melting cheese all over (as much you want). Then place it into the hot oven to cook for about 20-25 minutes or until the cheese is nicely melted and golden. Cool for about 5 minutes before serving. Serve it warm with a nice simple green salad and enjoy!

Note: You may or may not end up using all of the pasta shells. Don't fret, just do what I do and save them for another night! You can just take some leftover sauce and pour it over, heat through and eat!

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