Shells Stuffed with Spinach and Ricotta

This is my version of a classic comfort dish. It’s rich with protein and the spinach and carrots add nutrients. I like to use fresh, handmade ricotta for a pillowy, flavorful filling. In this case, I used store-bought but if you’d like to make your own it’s very easy to do. I like San Marzano tomatoes for the brightest flavor.

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes in puree
  • 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 oz. jumbo pasta shells
  • 10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 15 oz. fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 8 oz. ball fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Warm 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until just becoming tender, about 5 minutes. Add the carrot and cook another 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic to the skillet and cook for one minute more. The mixture should be fragrant and the vegetables lightly browned and softened. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley, basil, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to the skillet. Bring to a boil, then immediately turn the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of salt, then the pasta. Cook the pasta for about 7 minutes, or a minute or two less than package directions for al dente. The pasta should be slightly undercooked (it will finish cooking in the oven). The shells will also be easier to fill if they’re slightly underdone. Drain the pasta in a colander, then transfer it to a bowl and toss with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to prevent the shells from sticking to one another. Set aside.
  • To make the filling, combine the spinach, ricotta, Parmesan, lemon zest, nutmeg and egg in a bowl until blended.
  • To assemble the dish, place half the sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking dish. One at a time, fill each shell with a few tablespoons of the filling. Squeeze the open edges together slightly, then lay the shell open side up in the bed of sauce. Continue until you’ve used all the shells. Spread the remaining sauce over the shells, then top with the slices of mozzarella.
  • Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until sauce is bubbly and cheese is melted and lightly browned. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Preparation time: 30 minute(s)

Cooking time: 40 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 6

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