Baked Stuffed Pasta Shells
Hands on time: 20-30 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes (or until bubbly around the edges and the cheese is golden and melted on top)
Broil time: just long enough to brown the top
Rest time: 5 minutes
1 box jumbo pasta shells (250g/8oz)
1 lb/450g ground chicken (beef would work too)
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 huge or 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
8oz/250g cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
4oz/125g spinach, cooked, drained and chopped
¼ cup tomato sauce (sometimes I use my lazybones marinara, sometimes from a jar)
1 tbsp dried basil
½ tsp chili pepper flakes (more if you like things spicier)
1 ½ cups shredded Mozzarella or Italian cheese blend
½ cup coarsely grated Asiago
2-3 cups tomato sauce
1. In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, sauté the ground chicken until it is no longer pink, breaking it up into chunks during the process (5 minutes or so). Remove to a large bowl, using a slotted spoon. Discard the juices.
2. Heat a little oil in the same skillet over medium heat and sauté the onions until they are soft and translucent (5 minutes). Add the garlic, chili pepper flakes and basil and sauté for a minute or two for the flavors to come through. Add the 1/4 cup of tomato sauce, heat for a minute or two and then add to the chicken mixture.
3. In the same skillet, sauté the mushrooms in a little oil until they are golden (3-4 minutes) add the cooked spinach (I sometimes steam in the microwave or add to the mushrooms until the spinach wilts. If you use frozen spinach, boiling in a water in a small pot works best. Drain before adding to the mushrooms.)
4. Add the mushrooms and spinach to the chicken mixture and toss well. Taste for seasoning and set aside until cool enough to handle.
1. In the meantime, in a large Dutch oven, boil pasta shells until slightly undercooked (8 minutes or so). Drain in a colander and plunge into cold water to stop the cooking process for a couple of minutes. Drain when ready to fill the shells.
Put it all together:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C
2. Spoon a thin layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of an oven proof dish large enough to hold at least 12 pasta shells (my dish holds 18 and I did a quick freeze of the extras for another day – more about that at the bottom of the post).
3. Use a large soup spoon to fill the dry pasta shell and lay it open side up on the tomato sauce. Repeat until the dish is full.
4. Spoon the tomato sauce over the shells and add a thick layer of shredded cheese over it all. Sprinkle some Asiago on top.
5. Bake for 30-40 minutes. It’s ready when the sauce bubbles around the edges and the top layer of cheese is melted and golden. If it isn’t brown, turn on the broiler for a couple of minutes…Pay attention, you don’t want it to burn after all that work.
6. Remove from the oven and let it rest, uncovered on the counter/table for 5 minutes. This will let the dish “set” and still be hot.
Note: Often when I make filled baked pasta dishes, I don't quite seem to come out even...too much filling usually. So here's a trick....fill any extra cooked shells with filling, lay them in a ziplock baggie set on a baking sheet and freeze for about an hour or two. Once they are firmly frozen, you can remove the tray and store in the freezer for up to a month. You can then either defrost or just put some tomato sauce in an ovenproof dish, add the stuffed shells, pour more sauce and cheese on top and bake.