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Monday, April 1, 2013

Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells with Marinara Sauce

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"Is it the parsley that makes these so good?" That was the question Ryan asked me as he finished off a big bowl of these stuffed shells. I wasn't sure what to tell him. Yes, the punch of parsley added a noticeable freshness to the shells. But it was also the cheesy spinach oozing out of the shells. And the tomato sauce that first simmered on the stove for thirty minutes. Point is, things are good. Very good. I made them on a Saturday afternoon and stuck them in the freezer, saving them for the night I'd return from a busy trip in no mood to cook. As you can see from Ryan's raving, you never would've guessed they came from the freezer!
My grandma made these for us when we visited over Christmas and I immediately asked for the recipe so I could make them again. Much as I love the sausage, spinach, and cheese stuffed shells, these are a fantastic meatless option and I definitely preferred this sauce! This makes one 9 x 13 or two 9 x 9 pans...we kept one for ourselves and I gave one to my sister, but I won't blame you if you decide to keep them both!

One Year Ago: Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese
Two Years Ago: Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars
Three Years Ago: Green Monster Smoothies

Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells with Marinara Sauce
slightly adapted from Relish

for the sauce-
-2 tbsp olive oil
-1/2 yellow onion, chopped
-3 garlic cloves, minced
-1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
-2 (14.5 oz) cans tomato sauce
-2 beef bouillon cubes
-1/2 tsp dried basil
-1/2 tsp dried oregano
-1 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
-2 tsp sugar
-1 tsp coarse salt
-freshly ground pepper

for the pasta-
-1 (12 oz) box jumbo pasta shells, cooked and drained
-2 tbsp olive oil
-1 lb fresh spinach
-1 (16 oz) container ricotta cheese
-1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
-2 large eggs, lightly beaten
-2 garlic cloves, minced
-1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
-1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
-1/2 tsp coarse salt
-1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

1. To prepare the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, bouillon cubes, basil, oregano, parsley, and sugar. Stir to mix well. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
2. Combine spinach with 1/4 cup water in a large saucepan over medium heat. Simmer, covered, for 3-5 minutes, until spinach is wilted. Drain well and squeeze spinach to remove excess moisture. Finely chop spinach.
3. Mix spinach with ricotta, mozzarella, eggs, garlic, 1/4 cup Parmesan, nutmeg, and salt. Stuff prepared pasta shells with cheese mixture and place in 1 9x13 or 2 9x9 inch baking dishes. Cover with marinara sauce. Sprinkle evenly with remaining Parmesan cheese and parsley.
4. If freezing, cover with plastic wrap and foil and place in freezer. When ready to bake, remove from freezer and remove plastic wrap/foil. Bake at 350F for 25-30 min if unfrozen and 35-45 if frozen, or until cooked through. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.