There is something really comforting about a plate of tender pasta filled with savory goodness, covered in tomato sauce, smothered in cheese and baked until nice and bubbly. It may not always be the healthiest thing in the world but it’s good for my soul if not my body.
When I was watching my weight a while back, I tried to find a way to “skinny” a couple of dishes. Although not completely low cal or low fat, I added lots of veggies and protein to the stuffing of some pasta shells and was able to fit a couple of the little shells into my calorie plan for the day. Yeah, I had to forego my one glass of wine and had a light lunch but it was so satisfying! I’m not saying that stuffed shells are a perfect low carb or low cal dish to eat if you are trying to lose weight but you can definitely work with it to make it a bit healthier. And if you deprive yourself all the time you are going to crash hard and gorge on something truly decadent.
I love manicotti but it’s kind of a pain to stuff. Plus the pre-made ones are so big. If you are trying to watch your calories, you could have one or two of these little shells with a big salad and still get your pasta fix.
This isn’t a hard recipe but does have a few steps. I’ve done it on a weeknight before but it can mean eating a little later. You may want to try this on a weekend the first time so you can figure out your timing just right. Also, you can scale this up or down as much as you like. Often, I make too much filling so when that happens, I just boil some extra shells and freeze a whole batch for later. It is SO nice to pop a pan of these out of the freezer on Friday for dinner on Saturday night. Definitely a good recipe to double so you can make one for now and one for later! And I’m not going to lie, this is more filling than you are going to need for one pan. So I recommend boiling some extra shells and, while the first pan bakes, make another pan to freeze for later or share with a neighbor.
(There is supposed to be a big photo of the big bubbling pan of shells for you right here. But the two hungry men in my house could not wait for me to dish it up and it just didn’t happen. Trust me when I say it was brown and bubbly and delicious looking)
Everything Stuffed Shells (with extra filling for a freezer batch)
- 12-15 Jumbo pasta shells
- 1 recipe marinara sauce, heated – recipe below (or you can use a store-bought jar of simple tomato basil sauce)
- 2 T olive oil
- 3 links (about 1/2 lb) sweet or spicy Italian sausage, removed from casings *
- 1/2 C onions, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 oz chopped mushrooms
- 3 C fresh chopped spinach
- 1 1/2 C ricotta cheese
- 1 C grated mozzarella, divided
- 1/2 C finely grated parmesan, divided
- 1/4 C fresh basil, chopped (I was out of basil this time so you’ll see oregano in my photos)
- 1/4 C fresh Italian parsley, chopped (plus a little extra for garnish)
- 1 1/2 t coarse kosher salt (taste first!)
- 1 t black pepper
- 1 egg, beaten
Cook pasta shells about two minutes less than package instructions. They will continue to cook in the oven and you don’t want them gummy. Drain well, rinsing under cool water. Set aside.
Heat marinara sauce on back burner and just let it hang out there simmering while you work.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Meanwhile, heat 1T oil in large skillet over medium heat. Cook sausage, breaking up with the back of your spoon until no large pieces remain and almost all pink is gone. Add onions and continue to cook until slightly translucent. Add garlic and continue to cook for one minute. Remove to bowl to cool slightly.
Add remaining oil to same pan and saute mushrooms until most liquid is cooked off and they are starting to brown. Add spinach and cook, stirring often, until just wilted. Add mixture to bowl with sausage. Combine everything well.
Add ricotta, chopped herbs and half of grated cheeses to bowl and stir to combine evenly. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper (you may not need all that salt). Once seasoning is right, add beaten egg and combine well.
Spray 8×8 inch casserole with nonstick cooking spray. Spread about 1/2-3/4 C marinara in bottom of dish, about 1/2 inch deep. Fill each shell with about 1/3 cup filling and nestle gently in sauce, open side up. Drizzle more marinara over tops of shells and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover dish tightly with foil and bake for 20-30 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake for 10-15 minutes or until brown and bubbly – turn on the broiler if you need for a minute or so.
Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10-15 minutes.
To serve, put a little puddle of warm fresh marinara (from that pot on the back burner) in a shallow bowl. Nestle 2-3 shells in the sauce and garnish with fresh chopped parsley.
*To adapt this to be kosher or vegetarian, simply leave out the meat and add more veggies and cheese. You can really make this with just about anything.
Easy Marinara Sauce
- 2 T Olive Oil
- 1/2 C diced onion
- 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 T tomato paste
- 1/2 C wine (red or white is fine)
- 1 28 oz. can good quality crushed or finely diced tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
- fresh basil, chopped
Heat oil in small sauce pan over medium heat. Cook onions until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add garlic and continue to cook for one minute. Stir in tomato paste and cook for one minute more just to cook off raw taste. Deglaze with red wine and stir until smooth. Add tomatoes and simmer for 30 minutes or as long as you like really. Just before serving, stir in chopped basil.