Monday, October 25, 2010

Spinach and Ricotta Pasta Shells

Sometimes you just want some good ol' red sauce pasta dish, whether authentic or not.  I cook a ton of Italian-ish food--they're a perfect one-dish dinner.  You've got your carbs, of course, fruits (the tomatoes--LOOK at me being all exact), and veggies/protein depending on what you put in it.

So the other day I had a hankering for a big dish of baked pasta.  I was going to do baked ziti, but at the last second swerved towards stuffed pasta shells when I saw this recipe on Epicurious.  There are several main components:  the filling that goes into the pasta shells, and the tomato sauce in which the shells back.  The Epicurious recipe called for jarred marinara sauce, which would have been great, except that I need to kill time in the evenings until Kevin arrives home at 10 or 11pm, so I did some searching on Food Network to find a simple marinara sauce (it's at the bottom of the page).

Side note: the cafe downstairs in my office building is having a 30% off of espresso drinks. Score. I usually drink coffee, but I'm indulging in a latte.  Speaking of lattes, this past weekend we had some great coffee and espresso drinks from Joyride, one of the specialty food trucks that is de riguer these days. I don't even know if I used/spelled  that phrase properly. They have a concoction that's double shots each of espresso and MarieBelle hot chocolate, with milk.  They don't sweeten it, and it's very good. It's called Balzac.  Now I know that Balzac is a proper name, but I realized that I had never really said his name until I ordered it from the truck dude, at which point I felt like giggling.  Balzac.  Heehee. I am a 10-year old.

Recipe adapted from Epicurious and Food Network.

For tomato sauce 
  • one 28-oz can of whole peeled tomatoes and one 14.5-oz can of the same
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped 
  • 1 quite small onion, finely chopped (the recipe calls for 3 TBS of chopped onion, which I think is kind of ridiculous--plus I used more tomatoes than they called for so I just upped the amount of onion to a small one)
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
For filling
  • one 10-oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed very well (the original recipe calls for two 10-oz packs.  I used an organic brand that only came in 16-oz packs, and I found the amount of spinach to be too much for my taste. So I'm recommending just 10 ounces, but obviously know that you can up the amount without committing some kind of travesty)
  • 10 oz ricotta
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds (the recipe called for 2 TBS, which seemed overwhelming)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano, basil or thyme
    • Note: regarding the spices, just use what you want
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder, or 3 minced garlic cloves (the recipe called for the fresh garlic, but I was worried they wouldn't get "cooked" enough just by baking in the cheese mixture, so I used the dried--do what you want)
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • pinch of dried or fresh grated nutmeg (optional) 
For the sauce, crush the tomatoes, with all the juices, with your hands.

Chop your onions and mince the garlic.

Heat a few tsp olive oil in a medium sauce pan--add in the onions and garlic with the red pepper flakes, and cook until onion become translucent, about 4-5 minutes.

Pour in the tomatoes.  Add the dried thyme, and some salt and pepper.  

Bring to boil, then simmer at least 15 minutes.  I simmered them while I prepped the other stuff, so about 30 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, cook pasta shells according to package directions and drain.  Set aside while you prepared the filling.

For the filling, mix together spinach, ricotta, 1/2 cup parmesan, whatever dried herbs you're using, garlic (fresh or dried), and a pinch of nutmeg if you want. Stir well to combine.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spread 1/2 cup tomato sauce over bottom of 9x13 baking dish.

Fill each pasta shell with about 1 TBS (or generous TBS) filling.  Set in dish, open side up.  You probably won't get to use all the shells that come in the box.  I was really trying to squish them in there.

Pour remaining sauce over shells.

Top with remaining parmesan.

Cover with aluminum foil.  Bake for about 30 minutes (you're just trying to warm everything through).



  1. These look great! I've never done them homemade---always the frozen kind. These are probably eons better!!!

  2. wow, that looks like a lot of work. perhaps quick work for your small nimble fingers (a la child factory worker), but if I were to attempt this dish my ravenous husband would have ordered out taco bell by the time I was done.

  3. Wow those look delicious! :)

  4. mm! looks so tasty! I'm going to have to try it out this week!

  5. Balzac is funny... apparently I'm ten years old as well. Hm.

    Stuffed shells are one of my fave pasta dishes!

  6. Dude that's like a serious meal! Lots of work, but it turned out amazing!