Monday, August 12, 2013

Spinach Stuffed Shells

Let me begin by saying that when I was a kid, I hated vegetables. A big shock right? But really, could you blame me? I will always remember that clump of overcooked, limpy spinach with the yellow gooze running out of it on my lunch tray at school. No wonder kids hate vegetables. But as I grew older and wiser, I realized that vegetables didn’t have to be mushy, smelly and gross. They can actually taste as good as they are for you. One of my favorite vegetables now is spinach (ironic I know). It is chalked full of vitamin A, vitamin C, beta-carotene, manganese, and zinc to name a few. Plus it is super versatile – you can mix it into a salad, throw it into a stir fry or pasta dish, or blend some into a smoothie for a little extra nutrient punch (not to mention an awesome, subtle flavor).
So what would be an awesome dinner that incorporates said delicious food? Spinach stuffed shells, that’s what. They are delicious. Seriously. D. always gets very excited when he realizes I’m cooking them. He can barely restrain himself from eating the whole pan! This is definitely a good sign, since it is a relatively healthy dish.
Let’s jump into the recipe then!
-30 jumbo pasta shells (almost a whole box)
- 1 15-oz. container ricotta
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella
- 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
- 1 10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 1 large egg
- A pinch of salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons Italian bread crumbs
- Pinch of ground nutmeg
- 26-oz. jar spaghetti sauce
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put a big pot of water with a pinch of salt on the stove to boil. While waiting for the water, grease a 9 by 13 " baking pan, or whatever you have on hand. Gather your ingredients up. Once the water is boiling, put in the pasta and boil for 10 minutes (give a couple of quick stir). Drain afterwards. While the pasta is cooking, mix together the ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella, parmesan, egg, salt and pepper, bread crumbs, and nutmeg. Then add the spinach after you run it under some warm water to loosen it up. I usually cut it into fourths and put it in strainer under hot water. Break it up with your hand.
Next, I use a gallon size ziplock bag to help pipe out the filling. Fold over the edges before you put the filling in to avoid a big mess (trust me on this one).

 Then push all of the filling into the corner of the bag, and snip off a good portion of the corner, big enough so the spinach can get through, but small enough to it's easy to handle.
 Next, put about half of the tomato sauce into the pan. Then, take each cooked pasta shell one at a time and pipe in the filling. I usually overstuff them a bit. This doesn't have to be perfect, but try to get some filling in each shell.
Once you have filled the shells, admire the beautiful shells you just made, because you are about to cover them up with sauce and cheese.
 Next, put the rest of the container of tomato sauce over the shells and sprinkle the other 1 cup of mozzarella over the shells. Cover in tin foil and back for 30 minutes. Then, remove the foil and cook for another 15 minutes to help make the cheese all melty and gooey. Here's a picture of mine!
 Serve it while it's hot, but not too hot to burn your mouth. Waiting until it cools down is definitely the hardest part!
Save any leftovers for dinner the next night. It usually makes about 4 portions, so D. and I get to have an easy dinner the following night. 
I hope this is a relatively easy and delicious way to incorporate spinach into your next meal. Enjoy! Until next time. 

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