January 20, 2011

Stuffed Conchiglioni Pasta Shells with Spinach, Ricotta and Parmesan

Stuffed Conchiglioni Pasta Shells with Ricotta and Spinach

We frequently entertain, whether it be family or friends, and my children are trained like Pavlovian Dogs to always ask "who's coming over?" when the weekend hits. Friends often comment or ask "How can you entertain so much? Isn't it a lot of work? You must be Martha Stewart!"

No, I'm not Martha Stewart. Trust me. I want to be the hostess with the mostess but I like to cut corners wherever I can. Don't you?

The challenge with frequent entertaining is coming up with something different AND easy. I do not want lots of prep work or complex dishes. I've spent one too many times in the kitchen, punching hours on the prepping and cooking time-clock, when I really need not be. I don't want to be chained to the stove or stuck away from guests. Get-togethers, for me, is always about people first and then the food second. When it's not, and people go home, I always feel like I missed out on everyone.

A short while ago, I made the "mistake" of walking down the dry pasta aisle at the Italian Center. I thought I could be tough this time and just look, since I usually avoid that aisle, but I ended up filling my home pantry with every different shape, size and color of pasta. It's an addiction, I'm sure. Pasta-shopa-holic. I'm like a kid in the candy store, my eyes get big and I want it. And I want it ALL!

The pasta shells I used are called conchiglioni pasta. (try saying that 3 times!) They are, as the name implies, conch-like pasta shells. They are large in size and fantastic for filling up with any mixture variation you can think of.

Everyone made comments on the dish. "Looks pretty". "Great idea". "Tastes really good". It is a very visually pleasing dish and not a lot of work. Spend time cleaning the kitchen up instead or fixing your hair before folks arrive! Go ahead, this will be our secret and you too can be called Martha :)

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Looking to Simplify: I sauteed up my own fresh spinach but you may use frozen chopped spinach instead. Defrost, drain and use in place of sauteed spinach.

Even Simpler: All the prep time can be done well ahead of time. Prep the dish in the morning or even the night before. Wrap with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Allow to warm up before baking and remove plastic wrap before baking.

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Stuffed Conchiglioni Pasta Shells with Spinach, Ricotta and Parmesan
serves 6 as a main, about 10-12 as a side

about 30 large pasta shells, cooked as per bag instructions
1 bag (312g/11 oz) fresh spinach
2 tbsp butter
1 container (425g/15 oz) ricotta cheese
3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
about 2 cups tomato or pasta sauce
shredded mozzarella cheese

Saute the fresh spinach with butter over medium heat. Stir frequently, until wilted, about 5 minutes. Work in batches, if needed. Place all the spinach into a bowl.

Mix in the ricotta and parmesan cheeses. Add enough salt and pepper to taste.

In a large oven proof dish, spread a thin layer of tomato sauce, about 1 cup worth.

Spoon the ricotta-spinach filling into each pasta shell. Arrange the filled pasta shells onto the tomato sauce. Either drizzle the remainder of the tomato sauce or place a spoonful atop of each shell. Add your desired amount of shredded cheese on top of the shells.

Cover with aluminum foil and place into the 375F oven to bake for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly and serve.
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