One of my favorite meals to make is a cheesy stuffed pasta. Today was a day for spinach and cheese stuffed shells. The really cool thing about the stuffing though, is that instead of using ricotta, I like to substitute cottage cheese. You can’t taste the difference, and I like to do a little trick so that the texture of the cottage cheese ends up being just like ricotta.
Rather than give you a recipe at the end of this, I’m going to let my method hopefully inspire you to do a version of these shells that you would like to do. So, we start with a pack of shells. I like to buy these guys at The Pasta Shop in Berkeley. The pack has enough shells to make this dish three different times. This pan is a 13″ x 9″ and lets me line up about 18 shells, which is about how many shells it takes to use up the filling.
Boil some generously salted water in a nice big pot. The salted water gives the shells some flavor, and the big pot gives the shells room to get to a medium al dente. You don’t want to cook them all the way through, because you’re going to finish them off in the oven.
While your shells are boiling, get ready to make the filling. As you can see, I substitute cottage cheese for ricotta. But, if you’re not into this idea, you certainly can use a container of ricotta instead.
Ok, here’s the trick. I use a ricer to make my cottage cheese the same texture as ricotta cheese. You can get a ricer at pretty much any store where they sell kitchen gear. I think this one cost me about $10, and is from Bed Bath and Beyond. They are great tools if you’re a fan of mashed potatoes, since they really help you achieve a smooth and fluffy texture without turning the potatoes gluey (which can happen if you over mix them).
See. It looks just like ricotta now
Mix in an egg, about 2 tsp of salt, about a tsp and a half of freshly ground black pepper, a half a cup of freshly grated Parmesan, and a half a cup of freshly grated mozzarella cheese, and about a cup of cooked spinach.
A note on the spinach. You can use frozen spinach and use it here (just follow the cooking instructions on the package). However, I usually just buy about a 1/2 pound of baby spinach from the farmers’ market, or from the spinach bin at the grocery store, blanch it in hot water for a minute, drain it to get rid of excess water, and then chop it up finely with a knife.
This is what the mixture will look like once it’s been all mixed together.
Now you just gotta get it into the shells.
Stuff those shells nice and full.
Line ‘em up.
And then pour a bottle of tomato sauce on them. You can use what ever flavor you like. I happened to go for vegetable marinara today. Sometimes I even like to make my own sauce and include some ground chicken, or ground beef in there as well.
Once you’ve poured the sauce over the shells. Sprinkle a little bit of Parmesan and mozzarella on them, or not. It’s up to you. Cover with aluminum foil, and bake at 350′ F for about 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes is up, uncover the shells and bake for an additional 5 minutes.
There you have it!
These make for some great leftovers, and they also freeze beautifully for a future dinner if you want to make an extra batch for another time.