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Italian Stuffed Shells with Tomato Cream Sauce

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

On a cold winter day, a hearty dish draws everyone to the table and provides much needed warmth.  Besides, the heat from the oven serves to warm the kitchen…and truly makes it the heart of the home.  This dish is easy to prepare and your family can help stuff the jumbo pasta shells.  The only problem is the intoxicating smell of this casserole as it bakes might bring folks to the kitchen early with “Is it ready yet?” inquiries.  Enjoy!

Italian Stuffed Shells with Tomato Cream Sauce
Makes 8 servings

For the sauce:
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into pieces
1 medium onion, cut into chunks
1 stalk of celery, cut into pieces
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut into pieces
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil
½ pound lean, ground beef
½ teaspoon of salt
¼ teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper
½ teaspoon of fennel seed
1 Tbsp dried Italian seasoning
¾ cup non-fat milk
¾ cup dry red wine
24 ounce jar of tomato-basil marinara sauce

For the filling:
16 oz. 2% small curd cottage cheese or 15 oz. reduced fat ricotta cheese
1 egg
¼ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 – 3 oz. (2 – 3 cups, packed) spinach, kale or Swiss chard, washed

1 box of jumbo pasta shells

½ cup shredded parmesan cheese for topping

Put the carrots, onion, celery and garlic into a food processor and chop into small pieces.  Set aside.

In a large Dutch oven, bring approximately 1 quart of water, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon olive oil to a boil.  When water begins to boil, add approximately 30 jumbo pasta shells to the water and cook until a dente (approximately 9 minutes).  When shells are cooked, drain in a colander lined with the fresh spinach/kale/chard leaves(The boiling water from the pasta will cook the leaves as the pasta is poured into the colander).  After the pasta is drained, put the shells on a cookie sheet which has been sprayed with cooking spray to allow the shells to cool for handling. Drain the spinach/kale/chard to remove excess liquid. Coarsely chop the leaves with a knife and set aside.

While the pasta cooks, brown ground beef, breaking up chunks of meat with a wooden spoon as the meat browns.  When no pink remains remove the browned beef from pan and drain in bowl lined with two paper towels to remove excess fat.

Allow the beef to cool on the paper towels.  Sauté the chopped vegetable mixture in olive oil in a large pan until cooked through, approximately 5 minutes. After the vegetable mixture is sautéed, stir in the browned beef and season the meat/vegetable mixture with the salt, coarsely ground black pepper, fennel seed and dried Italian seasoning. Stir the spices into the mixture to blend the flavors. Gradually blend in the milk and red wine and then bring the beef/vegetable, milk/wine mixture to a gentle boil, then immediately reduce heat to a simmer. Allow the mixture to simmer approximately 5 minutes to reduce the amount of liquid and make a wonderful, creamy broth.  Slowly add the jar of tomato-basil marinara sauce, and simmer the blended mixture for approximately 10 minutes, uncovered.  Then cover the pan and remove the sauce from heat while stuffing the shells.

To make the filling, mix together the cottage/ricotta cheese, egg, finely grated parmesan cheese, salt, coarsely ground black pepper and chopped spinach/kale/chard in a medium bowl.  Use an iced tea spoon to spoon the cheese/spinach mixture into the prepared pasta shells.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Spoon approximately one cup of tomato/meat sauce into the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Arrange the stuffed shells in rows over the sauce with the shells touching, then spoon the remaining tomato/meat sauce over the shells.  Sprinkle the shredded Parmesan cheese over the top of the tomato sauce.  Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil that has been coated with cooking spray and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil to uncover the dish and increase oven temperature to 425 degrees.  Bake the shells an additional 20 minutes, or until the sauce bubbles around the edges and in the center of the casserole.

Remove from the oven and let cool approximately 10 minutes before serving.

One Response to “Italian Stuffed Shells with Tomato Cream Sauce”

  1. Rose Hood Says:

    Great recipe. In fact, all your recipes are terrific! Thanks for all the tips and pointers, too. I get hungry every time I read any of your recipes and am gradually trying many of them. Kudos to you, Ninevah, for all this helpful and terrific information!