Leftover ricotta cheese means MORE ITALIAN FOOD..... Yes! Last weekend I made a very tasty Vegetable Lasagna which left me with some leftover ricotta cheese, pasta sauce and fresh thyme. We don't waste ingredients in our house, so this weekend I decided to make another Italian favorite, Stuffed Shells. This is a traditional pasta dish where a cheesy mixture is literally 'stuffed' into jumbo shell-shaped pasta then baked in the oven until the filling is bubbly and warm. The shell filling can be anything from just cheese to a cheese, vegetable, and meat combination. I used Pinterest.com to find a recipe, then (of course) I changed a bunch of the ingredients and directions to make it my very own stuffed shell creation.
I have become a big fan of 'hot' Italian sausage recently... my boyfriend makes a crazy-delicious creamy, spicy and super indulgent pasta dish with it. I really do need to try to create a lighter version of the recipe he uses and share it sometime. Anyway, I wanted to create that same flavor profile so I used hot sausage for the filling of my stuffed shells. If you don't like spicy foods... you can just use regular Italian sausage in this recipe too.
These Stuffed Shells with Sausage, Mushrooms, and Spinach turned out pretty gosh-darn AMAZING! The spiciness of the hot sausage really cuts through the creaminess of the cheeses in this dish; it's exactly the flavor I wanted to create. The mushrooms and spinach add an earthiness and heartiness to the filling, plus they add a nice serving of veggies! Cheesy, meaty, spicy and flavorful.... this is great one-dish, Italian comfort food.
I thought a 9x13 pan full of these delicious stuffed shells would last for dinner all week... yeah, right! This dish is so good we kept going back for more, we ate about half the pan last night!
Stuffed Shells with Sausage, Mushrooms and Spinach
based on a recipe from foxnews.com
9x13 inch pan, 4-6 servings
1 box (12 oz.) jumbo pasta shells
1 pound (16 oz.) ground hot Italian pork sausage
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 (10oz) bag baby spinach
8 oz. mushrooms, chopped
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
2/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
1 cup tomato pasta sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9x13 inch glass baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Spread ½ cup of the tomato pasta sauce evenly on the bottom of the dish.
Boil pasta shells according to the package directions. Once cooked, drain and add to a large bowl of ice water until ready to be stuffed.
To make the filling, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the hot pork sausage to the pan and use a wooden spoon to break the sausage apart. Cook the sausage until browned. Place the cooked sausage on paper towels (to drain excess fat), reserving some of the sausage grease in the skillet.
Return skillet to burner, then add chopped mushrooms to the reserved sausage grease. Add minced garlic and thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Sautee over medium heat a few minutes until mushrooms are cooked. Add spinach and crushed red pepper to the mushrooms. Cook about 2 minutes longer, just long enough to wilt the spinach and combine ingredients.
Empty skillet contents onto paper towels to drain excess moisture out of the mushroom-spinach mixture. Let cool for a few minutes, then squeeze paper towels to ensure liquid has been removed.
In a large bowl, place cooked sausage and mushroom-spinach mixture; then add ricotta cheese, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, and 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese. Stir well to combine ingredients; taste for seasoning. Salt and pepper if needed.
Use a spoon to fill each pasta shell. Place stuffed shells in prepared baking dish. Top shells with remaining ½ cup pasta sauce, then sprinkle ½ cup mozzarella cheese and 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese.
Bake uncovered in the oven for 25–30 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the tips of the shells begin to crisp and brown. Remove shells from the oven and serve.
You really can't go wrong with the combination of pasta, sauce, cheese, veggies and meat. This recipe will be a comfort food go-to!