Friday, April 5, 2013

Stuffed Pasta Shells with Meat Ragu


Last week it snowed. I know it's supposed to be spring, but we still got snow and the entire family was "snowed in" at home.  I decided to make something hearty and comforting for lunch.  These stuffed shells fit the bill because my family loves pasta.  I loved how impressive the dish looked when it came out of the oven.  I thought stuffing all the pasta shells would be a pain, but it was pretty easy and quick.  I will definitely need to buy another box of these large shells and the next time I make them.... I hope it's warm and sunny outside. :)

3 tablespoons Olive Oil, divided
6-8 cloves garlic, finely chopped, divided
2 medium onions, finely chopped, divided
Salt and pepper (to taste)
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 (to taste)
1lb of lean ground meat (beef, chicken or pork)
1lb box of large size pasta shells
1 jar favorite pasta sauce (45oz bottle)
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
1 large egg lightly beaten
8oz of shredded mozzarella cheese

To make the meat sauce:

Brown lean ground meat (I used ground chicken) with medium onion and 3-4 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.

To make the pasta shells layer:
Boil the pasta shells until they are 1 minute shy of al dente. The pasta will finish cooking with the other ingredients in the oven.
Next defrost your spinach and wring it 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 and black pepper. Allow to cool a little before proceeding.

When the spinach mixture has cooled down, mix in the ricotta cheese and Parmesan mixture and egg.

Now fill the pasta shells with the spinach/cheese filling.  Place over 2/3 of the pasta sauce in a baking dish.  Top shells with remaining 1/3 of meat sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.  Serve hot.  Enjoy.

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