It’s confession time at Full Fork Ahead. Haven’t done one in a while, so you know this is gonna be good. Pull up a seat and prepare yourself.
Hubby and I just loved those Bertolli frozen oven meals for two, especially the stuffed shell one. Anyone know the stuff I’m talking about? Open bag, dump contents into oven dish, bake, consume? Full of questionable ingredients (that one really doesn’t take the time often enough to think about when dead ass tired on a work night) and tons of luscious flavor? Well, maybe not luscious, but really good anyway. Are you still on the post? Haven’t turned away in disgust? Bertolli doesn’t make those oven meals anymore, so I decided it was high time I got off my lazy bum and tried some from scratch. The latest Food Network magazine had two versions, a healthier option as well as the classic “rich” version. Amazingly enough, I opted for the lighter one. Let’s see how it turned out.
It’s true – stuffed shells need a lot of ingredients. Fortunately I only needed to buy half of them, the others already patiently waiting in my kitchen for their moment of glory.
After all the prep work’s done, boil up your jumbo-sized shells. They won’t cook as long as the box directions say to because they’ll be cooking a second time in the oven. Where magical things will happen. Delicious things. Cheesy things!
Go ahead and boil up a few extra as well. We did and still had enough filling left for a couple more.
The filling starts as a mixture of the frozen spinach (which we lovingly ringed to death to get all the water out), mushrooms and onion. This then needs to cool before chopping it a bit and adding in the rest of the filling ingredients. Which then looks like such a yucky mess (hence, no picture) but tastes reeaaallly good. My scout fingers are raised in earnestness.
Oh, well, there’s a little bit of a hint what the filling looks like pre-oven. It’s got lots of goodness in it, so not to worry. And just look at all those jumbo, filled shells. There are gonna be some happy taste buds tonight! The red below the shells is about half of the red sauce that’s prepared along with everything else.
And on goes the rest of that red sauce. Which I might actually sweeten just slightly next time as canned tomatoes can be bitter. But it’s a good base, this sauce.
The shells have been baking for a little while now, covered, and it’s time to add on the cheese sauce, which is then broiled for a few minutes.
Mmmmm, let’s just pause here a sec to admire the cheeeese sauce. Incidentally, you could also do a lovely bechamel sauce, but this one in the recipe reminds me a lot of the cheese sauce in that Bertolli frozen variety. *ahem*
Feast time! Thank goodness this recipe makes a lot. The filling comes together yummy-liciously in the oven, and you’d never know it was cottage cheese used instead of ricotta. In fact, I didn’t even tell hubby and he loved every bite. Welcome to a lighter, though no less satisfying, version of this kind of comfort food.
Will not lie – it takes some effort to make stuffed shells. It’s easy, it just takes some time. Maybe that’s why the bagged frozen kind was so darn alluring. This would be a great meal option to make ahead. You could even do so up to a point, cover and refrigerate overnight or even freeze it. Since we made it late enough in the day, I just covered the portion I kept and put it back in the oven once that cooled down. A couple of hours later, hubby grilled some Italian sausage (come on now, the dude needs his meat with dinner), we reheated these delicious shells in the oven, covered this time, for about fifteen minutes at 350 degrees and it was divine. I believe this is what they mean when they say, “Life is good.”
Mushroom-Spinach Stuffed Shells
from Food Network Magazine, March 2013
Prep Time: 50 minutes Cook Time: 1 hour 20 minutes Level: Easy Serves: 8
For the stuffed shells:
- Kosher salt
- 8 ounces (20 to 24) jumbo pasta shells
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling and brushing
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 12 ounces white mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 1 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 1 1/2 cups low-fat small-curd cottage cheese
- 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
- 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
For the sauces:
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- Large pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes, crushed by hand
- Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup low-fat small-curd cottage cheese
- 1/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
- 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
To make the stuffed shells:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta shells and cook until slightly softened but still firm, about 7 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Drizzle with olive oil and toss; set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms and cook, undisturbed, until golden in spots, about 2 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are soft, about 5 more minutes. Add the spinach and stir until heated through, about 2 minutes. Let cool completely.
Finely chop the spinach-mushroom mixture and combine in a bowl with the cottage cheese, mozzarella, parmesan, egg, basil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stuff each shell with about 2 tablespoons of the filling; set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
To make the tomato sauce:
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, fennel seeds and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until lightly golden, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, then rinse out the can with 1 cup water and add to the skillet; add 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Return to the skillet and rinse out the blender.
To make the cheese sauce:
Combine the cottage cheese, mozzarella, parmesan and egg in the blender and puree until smooth.
Brush a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with olive oil and pour in half of the tomato sauce. Add the stuffed shells, then top with the remaining tomato sauce. Cover with aluminum foil and bake 25 minutes; uncover and continue baking until bubbly, 15 to 20 more minutes. Turn on the broiler; drizzle the shells with the cheese sauce and broil, about 2 minutes.
We got out the immersion blender again this time for all the blending. It’s just a much more convenient tool in my opinion than a food processor or countertop blender for this type of work.
You certainly could add meat to this if you’d like. Precook whatever meat you use, whether it’s Italian sausage, broken into small pieces, or ground beef. You could also, after cooking the meat separately, add it to your tomato sauce to mingle with those flavors as it reduces. If you use prosciutto (which I’m thinking of doing next time), you do not need to precook it. Just cut or tear the prosciutto into small pieces and add it to the filling before stuffing the shells.
If you’re making this ahead of eating time, I would assemble the dish just through pouring the sauce over the shells. Cover, refrigerate and pull out of the fridge about thirty minutes prior to baking. Continue with the directions from there. You could also cover and refrigerate overnight, then bake and so on. If you freeze it, again, just assemble through pouring on the sauce. Cover well and freeze. Allow it to thaw on the counter a good two or so hours (possibly more) prior to baking. Continue with the directions from there and check it before putting on the cheese sauce to make sure the shells are heated all the way through. (Please keep in mind I haven’t actually tried freezing it yet. I’m going on what’s worked for me with similar meals in the past. Your results may vary.)