Growing up, I was one of those bizarre children who actually liked eating vegetables. For a long time, spinach was my very favorite, and I would eat big bowls of it simply steamed, or sometimes with a little sprinkling of cheese. I loved those leafy greens. Before you envy my parents having a child content to munch on spinach, sweet potatoes, peas, tomatoes, or other fresh produce procured in our family vegetable garden, they also lived through my angst-filled adolescent years, and I’m sure they’ll remind you that it all evens out in the end.
Today we still eat a lot of spinach, and I like incorporating it into recipes for a healthy boost. In this dish, we combine quick sauteed spinach with creamy ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, all tucked in to extra-large pasta shells and baked to bubbly goodness. The result is a healthy and hearty baked pasta dish that makes for a crowd-pleasing vegetarian meal.
- 16 jumbo pasta shells (Cook a couple of extra shells to allow for a few breaking while the pasta cooks.)
- 1–1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp fresh garlic, minced
- 4 cups (packed) fresh spinach leaves, roughly-chopped
- 12 oz skim-milk ricotta cheese
- 1 cup shredded skim-milk mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- 1 large egg
- 1 tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
- 1–1/4 cups marinara sauce
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cook the pasta al dente, according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the garlic and cook until it begins to brown, about a minute or two. Add the spinach and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leaves begin to wilt but are still bright green, about 3 to 4 minutes. The spinach should be reduced by half. Remove from the heat and let cool.
- In a mixing bowl, stir together the spinach, ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, egg, basil and salt and pepper until thoroughly combined. Pour 1/2 cup of the marinara sauce into the bottom of a shallow 8-inch by 8-inch baking dish. Stuff each pasta shell with a generous amount of the spinach and ricotta mixture, and place in the baking dish.
- Cover with the remaining sauce and bake covered with aluminum foil for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the top begins to brown and the sauce begins the bubble, another 10-15 minutes. Serve warm with a dusting of Parmesan.