Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sunday Dinner: Stuffed Shells

You know life is getting back to normal when Sunday dinners are back in motion. And with a dinner like stuffed shells, I'd say I'm well on my way to a full recovery! *fingers crossed*

I never got the chance to write about my hiatus, but after enduring migraines for most of November due to another spinal fluid leak, I had my third surgery in December. Third time's a charm, right?

Another surgery meant I was out of commission for about 6 weeks, which also meant Sunday dinners weren't happening. Who wants soup ... again? Apparently, I was the only one.

While it's nice to be waited on, and the idea of handing over responsibility for our weekly meal planning is even better, I sure did miss my kitchen.

I'm trying to get back to my regular routine in the kitchen, but it's slow going. I'm not allowed to look down for very long or bend forward at all. So now imagine trying to cook an entire meal or get anything from the bottom cabinets. It's hard work, I tell ya.

That being said, I've managed to pull out a few winners with a little help from Jesse. The most memorable have been chicken cacciatore, tacos, shrimp fried rice, Reuben sandwiches, and stuffed shells. Oh stuffed shells. Those were my favorite on the list. The shrimp fried rice and Reubens were a close second and third, respectively. :)

Let's jump back to the stuffed shells though, since that's how this post started.

I love ricotta. I also love stuffing food with food, as evidenced by the stuffed peppers I once wrote about. And who doesn't love Italian food? I know it's at the top of my list. And when you combine those three things, plus a few key ingredients, you get an amazing dish ... Italian Sausage and Spinach Stuffed Shells.

I served mine with a side salad, but the shells were the star here. If you wanted to stretch this dish to ensure leftovers (which are equally good - tested and confirmed), you could throw in some garlic bread.

I made 23 shells for four people and there were six leftover. We were trying to save room for dessert (thanks to our guests for bringing cannoli* ... very appropriate!). Otherwise, I think we would've polished off the last six shells.

I hope you get a chance to try the recipe, and if you do, please let me know how they turn out. My recipe is a combination of a few others, plus my own flair, so I'd love to hear what you think. Enjoy!

*Did you know that the singular of cannoli is cannolo? I had to look it up because it looked weird when I added an 's' to the end. Thanks to Wikipedia for the lesson of the day!

Italian Sausage and Spinach Stuffed Shells
Servings: 4-5
Cooking Time: 45 minutes

23-25 jumbo pasta shells

2 hot or sweet Italian sausages, crumbled (about 6 oz.)
3/4 bag baby spinach (5-6 oz)
15 oz. ricotta
1 egg
3/4 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. parsley
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 cup Italian cheese blend or mozzarella, plus extra for topping
1 jar (26 oz.) of your favorite pasta sauce

1. Begin by removing the sausage from the casing, if needed. Fry it in a medium size pan and crumble it as you go. When it is fully cooked, transfer it to a bowl and save about 1-2 tsp. of the grease (optional) for the next step. 

2. Steam the spinach in the leftover sausage grease until wilted. Add the spinach to the sausage and chill in the refrigerator or at room temperature until ready to use. 

3. Boil large pot of water and cook shells for 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain the shells and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. 

4. While pasta cooks, combine the ricotta, egg, cheese, and seasonings in a medium size bowl. When the sausage and spinach are cooled, add to the ricotta mixture. 

5. If baking right away, preheat oven to 350 degrees at this time.**

6. Pour 1/2 cup sauce in the bottom of a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish and spread evenly to coat. Stuff about 2 Tbsp. of ricotta mixture into each shell*** and fill the pan. Once the bottom layer is full, create a second layer, placing them in between the shells on the bottom. When all the shells are stuffed, pour pasta sauce over the top to cover everything. Sprinkle Italian cheese over the top. 

7. Cover pan with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 5-10 minutes. 

*Doubling the Recipe: If using an entire box of shells, double all ingredients except spinach and pasta sauce. For spinach, use one full bag. For pasta sauce, you can probably still use one jar, but have a 2nd jar available, just in case. Doubling the filling means you can fill each shell pretty full. After first layer of shells are in the baking dish, pour a thin layer of sauce before adding the second layer, or place extra shells in a new pan.

**Make-Ahead Directions: Prepare recipe as directed, but do not bake. Cover with plastic wrap, then foil. Refrigerate up to 24 hours or freeze up to 2 months. Remove plastic wrap; replace foil. Bake: refrigerated jumbo shells at 350 degrees about 40-50 minutes; frozen jumbo shells at 350 degrees about 2 hours or until hot and bubbly. (times given are approximate)

***I dried inside of shells using a paper towel before adding filling - not sure if it's necessary.


  1. Hmm, who are these wonderful guests who brought the cannoli? Tell us more about them!

    1. I would love to share more, but I'm trying to respect their privacy. I don't have their permission. ;)

  2. sounds yummy! can't wait to try it. :)


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