stuffed shells

Stuffed Shells with Spinach, Basil, and Italian Sausage

Remember how a few posts ago I promised more simple recipes with fewer ingredients? Yeah, these stuffed shells don’t exactly fit the bill. They are, however, in my opinion, worth every bit of your time and attention.

As crowd-pleasing as lasagne but a little more special because of the cute shells, this recipe is perfect for a weekend dinner with guests. It also makes great leftovers so your family (depending on its size) could get a couple nights meals out of it which is always a bonus!

Serve these stuffed shells with a simple green salad such as arugula or green leaf lettuce tossed in a vinaigrette. Maybe add a fun dessert like Dark Chocolate Pudding if you’re really into pleasing the crowd!

Stuffed Shells with Spinach, Basil, and Italian Sausage

(8 – 10 servings)

1 12-ounce box Jumbo Shells

1 pound mild Italian sausage

16 ounces frozen spinach

marinara sauce

3/4 cup onion, chopped (about 1/3 of a large, sweet onion)

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 – 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated

1/2 cup red wine

1 24-ounce jar of tomato basil pasta sauce

1 teaspoon parsley, dried flakes OR 2 teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped

Filling

(Cooked Italian sausage and thawed, drained spinach)

1/4 cup fresh basil, cut chiffonade style (or 2 teaspoons dried)

2 cups ricotta cheese, skim or whole milk

1 cup mozzarella, shredded

1/4 cup parmesan or Parmigiano Reggiano, shredded/grated

1 teaspoon Mediterranean or Greek oregano, dried leaves

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

freshly ground pepper

red pepper flakes (optional)

topping

1 cup mozzarella, shredded

1/4 cup parmesan or Parmigiano Reggiano, shredded/grated

1 tablespoon fresh basil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

Assemble your ingredients.

Place a large pot (mine is an 8-quart stock pot) filled just over 3/4 full with water on the stove, on high, to bring to a boil. This might take awhile, proceed with the following instructions while you wait.

Place the sausage in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Break it up and allow it to brown until it is cooked through.

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Place frozen spinach in a strainer/colander and run it under cool water until it’s thawed. Wring it out the best you can with your hands then spread it out on paper towels and blot the excess moisture. You want it as dry as possible. Set aside.

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Spoon out excess fat or drain sausage in a strainer/colander. Don’t wash the pan yet, place it back on the stove (no heat) to make the marinara.

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Combine sausage and spinach in a large bowl. Set aside.

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By now your water may be boiling. If so, add a couple pinches of salt to the water then add the pasta shells. Boil for approximately 8 minutes (al dente) then drain in a large strainer/colander. You may need to give them a quick rinse or toss them with a little olive oil to keep them from sticking together. Go ahead and start the marinara while the pasta boils.

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Chop the onion and place it in the skillet or Dutch oven with a tablespoon of olive oil. Turn the stove heat to medium-high.

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Cook for a few minutes, stirring often until the onions begin to appear translucent then add the grated/finely chopped garlic. Turn down heat to medium and cook for a couple more minutes, stirring often.

(Your pasta shells should be cooked and drained by now)

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Turn heat back up to medium-high and add the wine. Allow it to simmer for 4 – 5 minutes, it will reduce a bit.

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Add jarred tomato sauce then add 1/2 cup water to the empty jar, shake to get the excess sauce (you put the lid on, right?), and add that to the marinara along with the parsley (not shown). Bring to a simmer then turn the stove down to low and allow it to simmer while you prepare the filling.

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Cut basil in thin strips (chiffonade) then add it to the spinach/sausage mixture. (Reserve 1 tablespoon of basil to top the stuffed shells)

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Add the ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan cheeses and the oregano, salt, and pepper. Taste it, it should taste really good, if it doesn’t, add a little more salt and pepper. Throw in a pinch of red pepper flakes if you want to spice it up a bit.

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Spray a 9×11 inch Pyrex pan or equal size, oven proof casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Lay the shells out in a single layer to be filled.

Roll the filling into a ball (about the size of a golf ball) and stuff each shell.

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Completely cover the filled shells with the marinara sauce.

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Top with mozzarella and parmesan. Spray a sheet of aluminum foil, slightly larger than your baking pan, with non-stick cooking spray and cover the pan, sprayed side down. This will prevent the cheese from sticking to the foil. Bake in preheated 375-degree oven for 30 minutes.

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Remove cover, top with basil, and Bake for an additional 5 – 10 minutes. The top should be lightly browned and the sauce should be bubbling. Allow the stuffed shells to rest at least 10 minutes before serving.

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I think we should all have more meals with friends and family…

 

2 thoughts on “Stuffed Shells with Spinach, Basil, and Italian Sausage

  1. This looks so delicious. I never thought of rolling a ball of filling before stuffing. I’ve always made that a pretty messy job, trying to spoon into the limp shells. Also never thought about spraying aluminum when covering something that will stick to it. Great tips and now I want some stuffed shells!

    1. Thanks, Molly! I can’t remember where I learned that foil spraying tip but it’s saved me a lot of frustration with all the pans of lasagne I’ve made :).

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