Friday, April 24, 2015

Stuffed Pasta Shells with Meat Ragu


Last week it felt like spring.  Unfortunately, this week is not like spring at all.  We are having freeze warnings and are back in our winter coats.  I needed some comfort food to make the cold weather tolerable.   I decided to make something hearty and comforting for dinner.  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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