Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Red, White, and Green Stuffed Pasta Shells

Makes 12 servings (2 or 3 shells per serving)
Recipe from The Pioneer Woman Cooks Dinnertime by Ree Drumond
Husband-Tested in Alice’s Kitchen

This is comfort food for a crowd.  Set aside a free morning to prepare this and then have it for a dinner party or pop it in the freezer to bake for later. For a complete make-ahead dinner party, serve it along with Garlic Bread, a crisp salad, such as Heirloom Tomato andSummer Vegetable Salad and for dessert, Double Chocolate MochaBrownies. Rosemary Pecans and grapes make an easy, light before dinner appetizer.

1 Tablespoon olive oil
½ medium onion, diced
1 large clove of garlic, minced
10 oz. baby spinach
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2½ cups milk (or more as needed)
2 Tablespoons chopped basil (I used Pesto.)
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
30 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (plus more for sprinkling)
1 large egg
12 oz. jumbo pasta shells, cooked until slightly firmer than al dente
1 (24 oz.) jar marinara sauce

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion starts to soften.  Add the fresh spinach.  Cook, stirring, until it’s lightly wilted, about 2 minutes.  Remove the spinach from the pan and let it cool slightly, then place it inside a clean towel and squeeze out as much liquid as you can.  Give it a rough chop and set it aside.  Turn the heat to medium-low, then, in the same skillet, melt the butter and sprinkle the flour over the top.  Whisk it together to make a roux, and then cook it for a minute or two.  Slowly add the milk, whisking out lumps as you go.  Cook it until the white sauce is thickened, 4-5 minutes.  Turn off the heat and stir in half the basil, half the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.  (Add up to another ¼ cup milk if the white sauce it too thick.)  Taste and adjust seasoning.  In a separate bowl, mix together the ricotta, Parmesan, egg, the rest of the basil and parsley, and salt and pepper to taste until combined.  Stir in the chopped spinach mixture. To assemble, fill the pasta shells with the cheese mixture.  Stuff them generously.  Place the shells seam side down in a 9 X 13-inch casserole dish or foil baking pan.  (I lined a foil baking pan with parchment paper because I don’t like foil touching food.)  Pour the marinara sauce evenly over the shells.  And then, ladle the white sauce over the marinara.  Finally, sprinkle on extra Parmesan.  If you’re making this for the freezer, see the freezer steps below.  If you’re baking it right away, preheat the oven to 375 F and bake the shells for 25 to 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. 

Freezer Instructions:  Cover the pan of unbaked shells tightly with heavy foil (I topped the shells with a piece of parchment paper first.)  Freeze for up to 6 months.  To bake the casserole, preheat the oven to 375 F.  Bake the foil-covered pan for 1½ hours.  Remove the foil (and parchment, if using) and bake for anywhere from 10-30 minutes more or until hot and bubbly.  OR Thaw the pan in the fridge for 24 to 36 hours, until completely thawed.  Bake 25 to 30 minutes at 375 F bake the shells for 25 to 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. (It took my oven about 45 minutes.  I uncovered the pasta dish for the last 10 minutes.)

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