Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Baked Shells Casserole


The cold winds of winter are starting to loom in the horizon.  So, it's that time of the year where you want the hearty "stick to your ribs" food that warms you from the inside out.  This Baked Shells Casserole fits the bill and it will totally keep your family satisfied and asking for more.

3 tablespoons Olive Oil, divided
6-8 cloves garlic, finely chopped, divided
2 medium onions, finely chopped, divided
Salt and pepper
2 tsp dried oregano
1-2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes or to taste
1 Tbs dried basil  or a large handful fresh basil minced
1-2 tsp brown sugar
1lb of lean ground meat (beef, chicken or pork)
1lb box of medium size pasta shells
1 jar favorite pasta sauce
1 cup chicken broth or bullion and water equivalent  
1lb bag frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
Freshly grated nutmeg, about 1/4 teaspoon
3 cups fresh cottage cheese or ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten or 1/3 cup egg substitute
8oz of shredded mozzarella cheese


To make the pasta shells layer:
First defrost your spinach and wring dry.  Then saute 1 medium onion and 3-4 cloves of garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil. Added spinach, grated nutmeg and season with a little salt. Once this step is done, set it aside and go onto the next step.

Boil the pasta shells until they 1 minute shy of al dente. The pasta will finish cooking with the other ingredients in the oven.

Now mix the Parmesan cheese and cottage cheese together in a large bowl. You will eventually use this bowl to toss the pasta and spinach so make sure you have plenty of room to move.

Then mix in the sauteed spinach with the ricotta cheese and parmesan mixture.  To help everything bind add 1/3 of a cup of egg substitute or 2 egg yolks beaten.

Now add the pasta shells and gently mix all the ingredients together.  Set aside to assemble in the casserole dish with your meat sauce.

To make the meat sauce:
Brown your lean ground meat (I used ground chicken) with medium onion and 4 cloves of garlic finely chopped in two tablespoons of olive oil.

Season meat with:
* Salt and pepper to taste
*  dried oregano
* crushed red pepper flakes
* dried basil
* brown sugar

 Add 1 jar favorite pasta sauce and one cup of chicken broth (I just measured the broth  in the pasta jar so I could rinse all the sauce out of the jar)

 Simmer the sauce on medium heat for 10 minutes.  Taste the sauce for seasoning and if everything is good, turn the stove off and start assembling the casserole.

Assembling the Casserole

 In a large oven safe baking dish spoon 2/3 of the pasta sauce.

 Next put all of the pasta/spinach/cheese combo in an even layer.

 Top the dish with the remaining 1/3 of pasta sauce

Sprinkle with 8oz of mozzarella cheese. Bake at 375 degrees on the middle rack for 25-30 minutes.


 Serves 6-8 people.  Enjoy.