Everyone has that one go-to recipe when it comes to taking dinner to a family. This one is mine. I find that most families love the flavor combinations of fresh sauce, ricotta, sausage and giant shell pasta. This recipe is simple and easy to make despite what you might have heard about stuffed shells. It also makes a fair amount, so be prepared to have leftovers (which are great) or freeze some. I made three 8×8-inch trays; enough for a family and keep some for our dinner as well.
I love the bright green color of the spinach with the pasta and tomatoes. For picky eaters you could make this with or without the spinach in it. However, my kids love it with the spinach. Sometimes I will even do half and half if my kids are feeling a little picky. To be completely honest, I don’t use the whole amount of spinach this recipe calls for. I usually do about 3/4 of it.
My favorite part of this recipe is the Italian sausage combo with the chopped tomatoes. Actually though, I think my favorite thing about this recipe was the use of chopped tomatoes instead of jarred marinara sauce for topping the shells. Sauce can sometimes take over the flavor. That isn’t the case with this recipe. It gives it the right balance.
- 1 – 12 oz package of jumbo pasta shells
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 lb Italian sausage, casing removed
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1 – 15oz container ricotta cheese
- 6-7 oz fresh spinach chopped OR 10 oz frozen chopped spinach thawed and drained
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese divided
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh basil or 1 tsp dried basil
- 1/4 cup bread crumbs
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 – 28 oz can chopped tomatoes with herbs, including the liquid.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta shells according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage to the pan, breaking it into smaller pieces as it cooks. Cook until the sausage is completely cooked through and no pink remains, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the egg, ricotta, spinach, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, basil, bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. Stir together to combine. Add the cooked sausage mixture to the bowl and stir until evenly mixed.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spread a thin layer of the chopped tomatoes in the baking dishes (either three 8×8″ pans, or one 9×13″ and one 8×8″). Stuff each shell with some of the sausage and cheese mixture, and arrange in the baking dishes, open side up. Spread the remaining tomatoes over the top of the pasta shells.
Cover the pans with foil and bake for 30 minutes, until hot and bubbling. Remove foil and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake, uncovered, for 10 more minutes.
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