Meals like this rule the winter dining scene in our house. Baked pasta dishes are the epitome of comfortable food. There's also the added bonus of having easy leftovers- they'll last a few days in the fridge and like most pasta dishes freeze well for lunch next week or month. Don't want leftovers? Halve the recipe. Hey how's that one guy who rarely ate carbs like pasta and bread? Oh yeah, he's dead. Need a pizza recipe?
The streak wasn't planned or wished for, it was a pure accident. I have no idea how the meal plans lined up in such a fashion, but this dish of spinach and ricotta stuffed shells was smack dab in the middle of 5 days of unintentional vegetarianism. No beef, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish, lamb, or anything else that takes dumps for 5 days. As soon as I figured out what was happening I did not fight the urge to sear a juicy hamburger in a very hot cast-iron skillet, let it rest for 5 minutes while toasting a sesame seed bun, then topped it with caramelized onion, Gorgonzola and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. I'm pretty sure I was growling as the juice ran off my chin. Unintentional vegetarianism is a dangerous thing and is not advised at any time for a normal adult on the North American continent. Once a week or so however, is perfectly safe and can even be healthy for you and your wallet. Meatless Mondays is what the TV food people are naming it. I call it an option, just not for more than 3 consecutive days...I enjoy my placement in the food chain. If you want to stay on the meat train, brown some ground beef or turkey, drain, let cool and fold into stuffing mixture.
Are you tired of opening those tomato paste cans and only needing half of it? You know they only last a couple days in the fridge, even covered with foil. I'm not about to try and freeze that, I'd never see it again. Buy the double-strength paste in the tube, it's good quality, no waste, and is easier to measure.
Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells
15-18 pasta shells, about 12 oz.
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 heaping TB tomato paste
2 C marinara, store-bought or homemade
8 oz frozen spinach, thawed and drained, or 12 oz. fresh spinach wilted for two minutes
8 oz ricotta cheese, whole milk/full fat preferred
1/2 C Parmesan cheese, the good stuff of course
1 large egg yolk
2 C mozzarella, freshly shredded preferred
1 TB parsley, chopped
Cook pasta shells in salted boiling water until just al dente, drain and coat with a touch of oil to keep them from sticking together. Fire up the oven to 350F.
Put a few TBs EVOO in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for thirty seconds while stirring- burnt garlic does not taste good. Introduce about 1 TB of tomato paste, stir for one minute, then add the marinara sauce and mix well. Season with S&P and remove from heat after 5 minutes of a light simmer.
In a medium bowl, add the ricotta, egg yolk, parsley, parmesan, and spinach. Season with a pinch of S&P, mix well. Stuff the shells with this mixture and place in a baking dish. Layer the marinara sauce evenly over the shells, then cover with the mozzarella. A bit of extra parm wouldn't hurt. Bake uncovered for about 25 minutes, until nice and bubbly. If you'd like to brown the cheese more, employ the broiler on hi for ~5 minutes. Garnish with some parsley and after cooling for a few minutes, cut into portions. A green salad, some garlic bread, and a glass of Barolo, Barbera or Chianti would get along very well with this dish.