I am mad that I did not take a picture of a nice gooey serving of these bad boys. I have no idea what I was thinking, except probably that I was starving and could not wait to stuff my face with these delicious, totally carb-loaded babies. They are the ultimate comfort meal and not as intimidating as they look. Plus kids love them and they are so easy to double and triple and either freeze some or take to a sweet friend who needs some gooey cheese in her life. I have a few of those, and one who doesn't. But we will leave her out of this, she is tricky :P
This is not rocket science, nor is this recipe absolute. It is just a method and you can change things up however you wish, it really does roll well with the punches. Give 'em a try ......
Cheesy Stuffed Shells
recipe by Domestic Diva
1 large can crushed tomatoes (796 mL/28 oz)
1 can diced tomatoes, same size
1 onion diced
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tbsp sugar
salt and pepper
1 jar bottled marinara sauce, your choice
1 box jumbo shell pasta (may not need whole box)
1 c ricotta cheese
1 c shredded parmesan
2-3 c shredded mozzarella
4 c fresh spinach, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic
1/2 pkg frozen spinach
If you are making your own marinara, which I usually do because I think the bottled sauces are too sweet, you will need a large pot. Pour in 1-2 tbsp olive oil and saute the diced onions until soft. Add garlic and cook 30 sec and then pour in tomatoes (both cans). Stir and add sugar, herbs, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and taste, adjust as needed. Allow to simmer and reduce until desired consistency, about 20-30 minutes, over medium low. If you are just using the jarred sauce (which I do in a hurry), just crack open your jar.
If you are using fresh spinach, 1-2 tbsp olive oil in a skillet, medium heat. Add 1 crushed clove garlic and the fresh spinach. Stir until spinach begins to wilt. Add about 1/4 tsp salt and a few cracks of pepper and a tablespoon or two of water and stir, allowing spinach to cook down until all water is evaporated. Cool. If you are using the frozen spinach, thaw, rinse and drain well, squeezing until ALL the liquid is out.
In a large bowl, mix together ricotta, 1/2 c parmesan, 1 c shredded mozzarella, spinach and 1 egg, plus salt and pepper (just a few pinches of each). Stir well until creamy.
Meanwhile in another large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add one tbsp oil (to prevent pasta shells from sticking together) and add pasta. Boil according to package or until flexible but not cooked entirely soft. Drain and rinse under cool water.
In a LARGE glass dish (at least 9x13 or larger if you have one), spread a few spoonfuls of marinara sauce and spread across bottom. Take shells one at a time and spoon ricotta filling just until full but not exploding or leaking out everywhere. Place open side up in pan and repeat placing shells close together. You can pretty much cram them into every nook and cranny in that pan. Spoon more marinara over the top (as much as you want, I usually only use a little over half and put the rest in a jar in the fridge for later use) and then top with shredded mozzarella and parmesan. Again, it really depends on your tastes but I like lots of cheese. Surprised? Bake at 350F covered lightly in foil for 20 minutes and then remove the foil and bake another 15 minutes or until bubbly and gooey and slightly golden. You can even broil it for a minute or two to get the cheese golden brown and delicious. Spoon a few onto a plate and eat with a nice green salad (my kids like it with caesar but that is not a particularly healthy meal!) and some crusty bread to sop up the yummy sauces.
A few notes on this recipe:
*Please use real parmesan for this recipe. If you use the powdered stuff in the tall green can, not only will your children grow a third nipple and be blind but it will taste gross. So just don't.
*Also, if you can avoid it, don't buy the pre-shredded mozza in a package. It is coated in all sorts of stuff to keep it from sticking together (mostly cornstarch) and it just doesn't taste right. For my sanity grate your own but I understand if you need the time saver. I will admit to having used the pre-shreded stuff in a pinch but then I gag and hate myself all through dinner. I have issues.
*some people like to add meat to these. I used to always make them with sausage in the filling but I prefer them without so now I make them vegetarian every time but you can add meat if you desire.
*Really, it is so easy to make extra of this meal that it is worth doubling and making one for someone else (or for your freezer). The recipe for marinara sauce above makes enough for two of these almost exactly so you might as well :)
Now go forth and cook, my pretties .......