I had several ideas for the filling, but was inspired by a pesto chicken version I saw recently on What's Cookin, Chicago?; plus I still had plenty of pesto left over from those Monster Veggie Sandwiches I just made, so that pretty much sealed the deal. On a side note, the pesto turns the filling a fun shade of green, which makes them look like little stuffed ninja turtles…I’m not sure if this is bad or awesome.
For some reason I thought making these wonderful stuffed shells would be a hassle, but I was pleasantly surprised by just how easy it is. Making the filling is very similar to making lasagna filling, and instead of having to layer everything and dirty every dish imaginable (which often happens in my kitchen), a very simple assembly emerges.
First preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cook your jumbo shells according to package directions minus a couple of minutes (you want the shells to be al dente because they will cook more in the oven); if they are done before you’ve finished your filling, set them aside in water so they don’t stick together. While your shells are cooking, sauté the mushrooms in a little olive oil; add the garlic and spinach in at the end just long enough to wilt, then remove from heat. Next mix together the ricotta cheese, 1 cup of the shredded mozzarella, 1/4 cup pesto, the mushroom spinach mixture, and salt to taste; blend until everything is incorporated evenly.
Now comes the fun part! Drain the pasta shells and begin filling each one with a spoonful of the cheese mixture…you may have to get your hands messy; I recommend embracing it. Set the shells close together in a baking dish (mine is a little smaller than a 13x9), top with the remaining cheese and pesto, and bake in the oven for 20-30 min or until heated through and the cheese is melted.
Wrapping it up
I have to say I had a lot of fun making these. Not only did they turn out great with lots of flavor, but I really enjoy anything that lets me get my hands in there and get messy. It always brings back memories of childhood and making mud tacos (that’s right) with my big sis in the yard…don't tell her, but I’m pretty sure mine always turned out the best ;).
1/2 box jumbo pasta shells
15oz container fat free ricotta cheese
2 cups (8oz) shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
5oz package shitake mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove
2 cups baby spinach
Coarse salt to taste
1/2 cup pesto (homemade or store bought)
Olive oil for sautéing mushrooms
Servings: About 4
Servings: About 4
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