Mmmm, Stuffed Shells - a family favorite any time of year. Great when you need to feed a crowd too!
First boil 1 box of jumbo pasta shells (properly salted water please... add enough kosher salt so the water actually tastes salty - like the sea). Under cook the shells a bit so they don't turn to mush later in the oven. It's really important to cool these shells completely before proceeding. I do this by running them under cold water. I'll even throw in an ice cube or two. Then drain and move on to the next step.
In the meantime, gather all your ingredients together. Here I have my homemade sauce (or "gravy" as some family members insist on calling it), Mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, Ricotta cheese, eggs, dried parsley, red pepper flakes, and s & p. I didn't have any frozen spinach on hand today, but I usually throw a 10-ounce box of that in too (thawed and squeezed of course).
For the filling, mix the eggs, ricotta, 1/2 the mozzarella, 1/2 the parmesan, parsley, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and optional spinach together. Mix, mix, mix.... you don't want any bites with too much red pepper... or worse, not enough cheese!!!
Haha, that reminds me of the time my 2 year old son said to me (with the most concerned tone in his voice), "But mommy, if you die, who will buy me cheese???" (ah, the love of cheese). For the record, I was not dying. I wasn't even sick... it just randomly occurred to my toddler that I was the prime cheese provider, and he was quite concerned that his cheese provisions could very well be hindered at some point in the event I should cease to exist.
That 2 year old is now nearly 16, and he's still a cheese fiend. I literally have to hide the fresh mozzarella from him!
Okay, back to the stuffed shells...
Here is the filling all nice and mixed.
I usually place the filling into a large, disposable pastry bag, but since most of you probably don't have one of those hanging around, I'll demonstrate with a gallon size zipper storage bag. This will help you to fill the shells with slightly less mess. Note I said slightly - unless you have a helper in the kitchen to hold each shell open, you are going to get a little messy, so if you're brave (or desperate) enough to try this alone, do yourself a favor and use a pastry or storage bag.
Before we go any further, put a layer of sauce on the bottom of your baking dish. This will prevent the shells from sticking to the dish.
Now, cut a fairly decent size hole in the corner of the bag and start filling the shells. See how large I made this hole? I probably cut a good inch off the corner of the bag. Put the open corner into the shell and squeeze to fill. The bag will help you keep the shell open. So much easier than trying to fill them with a spoon.
If you have any filling left over, just squeeze it into the gaps between the shells. Waste not, want not.
Top the shells with the remaining sauce, remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, and a sprinkling of dried parsley. IMPORTANT - place the baking dish on a sheet pan. Your oven will thank me later.
I like to use Reynold's Wrap Non-stick Foil whenever I make stick or cheesy things. Nothing sticks to it.
Seriously, one side is printed "non-stick side" (the dull side). Put the non-stick side against the cheese and you'll never have to worry about the foil ripping all the melted cheese off your dinner again!
This is the side of the foil that was in direct contact with all that melted cheese. Look - you can click on the photo to see that there isn't one speck of cheese stuck to that foil. Not one speck! Great stuff!
And THIS is why your oven is happy you put that baking dish on a cookie sheet. You'll thank me too :). Mmmm, yummy. I hope you enjoy this recipe!
Stuffed Shells with 3 Cheeses
1 box jumbo shells (not quite fully cooked - rinsed and cooled completely)
32 ounces ricotta cheese
16 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
4 ounces grated parmesan cheese, divided
3 tablespoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (optional)
3-4 cups of your favorite tomato sauce (try my homemade version), divided
Preheat oven to 350F.
In a large baking dish (approx. 10x13 or 11x14), spoon 1/2 of the tomato sauce; set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the eggs, ricotta, 1/2 the mozzarella, 1/2 the parmesan, parsley, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and optional spinach; mix well.
Fill the partially cooked pasta shells and place them on top of the layer of tomato sauce in the baking dish.
Top with the remaining sauce, mozzarella, and parmesan.
Sprinkle with dried parsley.
Cover well with non-stick foil and place baking dish on a sheet pan.
Bake covered in a 350F oven for 50-60 minutes, or until the shells are hot and bubbly.
Remove foil and bake an additional 5-10 minutes until the cheese is golden brown.
Remove from oven and rest for 10-15 minutes before serving. Enjoy!