Baked Cheese and Spinach Stuffed Pasta Shells

Not everything I make is a bit hit with Timothy but this sure was. He ate three and a half shells, which is pretty good for a 19 month old. Another bonus to this recipe is the quantity that you get. I used a 9″x12″ baking dish for the main meal and I was also able to fill a 5″x7″ little baking dish for the freezer. The small dish will be enough for two people, or one person and a lunch the next day.

This meal is also easy to put together. I use the food processor to puree the cottage cheese and goat cheese together and then add the spinach and egg. If you just have a blender then go ahead and puree the cheese together but use a knife to chop the spinach and mix the chopped spinach with the cheese mixture by hand. If you tried to used your blender to chop the spinach you would end up with spinach smoothie or it would get all caught on the blade.

I use store-bought pasta sauce and this time I used pre-shredded cheese because it was on sale. Using the jumbo pasta shells makes assembly so much easier than using cannelloni tubes. I used to use those and a pastry bag to fill them until I discovered these shells. It so much faster and easier to clean up because you hold the shell open in your hand by squeezing the two ends gently so that it opens wide and use a heaping spoonful to fill the shell.

Instead of ricotta as the main carrier of the spinach, I use cottage cheese which is more cost effective and I prefer the texture.  I find ricotta kind of gritty. I used two 500 g tubs of cottage cheese and bought them on sale for $2.69. If I’m remembering correctly, ricotta is usually around $3.99 or more. The protein and fat content of ricotta and cottage cheese are quite similar if you buy part-skim ricotta and use 2% cottage cheese. Don’t use fat free cottage cheese. You would likely end up with a watery, mealy textured mess. These aren’t adjectives you want attached to a baked pasta dish.

The spinach in this recipe takes centre stage – it isn’t hidden deep among other ingredients. I used a full 500 g package of premium frozen spinach but if you want to ease up on the amount of spinach to make it easier to get green vegetable phobics (ie. small children) to eat it then you can use much less.  Another option if you want to keep all the spinach in the recipe is to make Cheddar Biscuits and use them as bribery so that they have to eat one shell to get one biscuit. It could work, but only you know your kids best.

Ingredients
1 250 g package of jumbo pasta shells
2 500 g tubs of 2% cottage cheese
1 140 g package goat’s cheese, softened
1 egg
500 g frozen spinach, thawed then excess moisture squeezed out
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt and pepper
1/4 grated Parmesan cheeese
350 g shredded mozzarella, or Italian mix cheese
850 ml – roughly 1 1/2 jars, spicy roasted garlic tomato sauce (or whatever kind you like)

How-to

1. Start boiling lots water in a large pot. While that starts to boil, empty the two tubs of cottage cheese into the food processor and puree until smooth. Then blend in the egg and goat’s cheese.
2. For the spinach, thaw it in the microwave. Once it isn’t frozen any more, dump the package into a colander and grab large handfuls and start squeezing it like it owes you money. Squeeze as much water out of it as you can. If you don’t have strong hands, rope someone in to help you or go at in with small breaks to rest your hands. I weighed the spinach after I was done and it reduced down to 180 g without the excess water.
3. Put the squeezed spinach in the food processor with the Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Pulse the machine to combine it with the cottage cheese mixture. If you have big pieces of spinach pulse it a few extra times so that you get little pieces rather than long stringy bits.
4. For the pasta, cook according to package instructions. The shells I bought took about 13 minutes. I checked with one that had kind of fallen apart in the water. When the pasta is done drain it in a large colander and rinse with cold water. I never rinse regular pasta but if I need to assemble something and handle it then it needs to be rinsed or it will stick together not to mention it will be really friggin’ hot.
5. Pour the contents of one jar of tomato sauce into a 9″x12″ baking dish and a little less than half of the other jar into a small 5″x7″ freezer and oven safe dish. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
6. Start filling the pasta shells with the cheese and spinach mixture. Hold the shell in the palm of your hand with one end in the direction of your fingers and gently cup your hand so that you open up the shell by pressing the two pointed ends slightly towards each other. Put a very large dollop of filling in the shell and place it in the baking dish. I put 5 across in the large dish and 3 in the small one. Keep going until you run out of space and filling. If you have extra filling you can top up the shells that are already in the dish.
7. Cover the top of the shells with shredded cheese. Cover the one you are going to bake with aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees F for 35-45 minutes. At about 35 minutes, remove the foil and bake until the cheese is starting to turn a light golden brown. This will take about 10 minutes, but keep an eye on it. If you prefer to speed this up you can turn on the broiler for 2-3 minutes.

Serves 4- 6 people.

Yields 6

Baked Cheese and Spinach Stuffed Pasta Shells

40 mins Prep Time

45 mins Cook Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 250g package of jumbo pasta shells
  • 2 500 g tubs of 2% cottage cheese
  • 1 140g package goat's cheese, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 500 g frozen spinach, thawed then excess moisture squeezed out
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • 1/4 grated Parmesan cheeese
  • 350 g shredded mozzarella, or Italian mix cheese
  • 850 ml - roughly 1 1/2 jars, spicy roasted garlic tomato sauce (or whatever kind you like)

Instructions

  1. Start boiling lots water in a large pot. While that starts to boil, empty the two tubs of cottage cheese into the food processor and puree until smooth. Then blend in the egg and goat's cheese.
  2. For the spinach, thaw it in the microwave. Once it isn't frozen any more, dump the package into a colander and grab large handfuls and start squeezing it like it owes you money. Squeeze as much water out of it as you can. If you don't have strong hands, rope someone in to help you or go at in with small breaks to rest your hands. I weighed the spinach after I was done and it reduced down to 180 g without the excess water.
  3. Put the squeezed spinach in the food processor with the Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Pulse the machine to combine it with the cottage cheese mixture. If you have big pieces of spinach pulse it a few extra times so that you get little pieces rather than long stringy bits.
  4. For the pasta, cook according to package instructions. The shells I bought took about 13 minutes. I checked with one that had kind of fallen apart in the water. When the pasta is done drain it in a large colander and rinse with cold water. I
  5. never
  6. rinse regular pasta but if I need to assemble something and handle it then it needs to be rinsed or it will stick together not to mention it will be really friggin' hot.
  7. Pour the contents of one jar of tomato sauce into a 9"x12" baking dish and a little less than half of the other jar into a small 5"x7" freezer and oven safe dish. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  8. Start filling the pasta shells with the cheese and spinach mixture. Hold the shell in the palm of your hand with one end in the direction of your fingers and gently cup your hand so that you open up the shell by pressing the two pointed ends slightly towards each other. Put a very large dollop of filling in the shell and place it in the baking dish. I put 5 across in the large dish and 3 in the small one. Keep going until you run out of space and filling. If you have extra filling you can top up the shells that are already in the dish.
  9. Cover the top of the shells with shredded cheese. Cover the one you are going to bake with aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees F for 35-45 minutes. At about 35 minutes, remove the foil and bake until the cheese is starting to turn a light golden brown. This will take about 10 minutes, but keep an eye on it. If you prefer to speed this up you can turn on the broiler for 2-3 minutes.
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