I will admit to everyone right now, I am scared to make Italian food for my boyfriend. Since he lived in Italy for 7 years growing up, his taste for Italian is pretty authentic, and mine is more…American, you could say. But I realized that is actually the key. If I set out to make an Americanized version of an Italian dish, there are no expectations, just praise! I much prefer praise. Which brings me to…stuffed shells.
One does not find stuffed shells on a menu in Italy. One finds stuffed shells on a menu at the Olive Garden. I tried to keep this version lighter and fresher, a bit more authentic. The results were tasty and quite plentiful…I managed to fill up 3 people, and have lots of leftovers!
Semi-Italian Stuffed Shells
(Note: In true Italian style, I didn’t measure much, so the amounts will probably need to be played with to suit your taste)
For the sauce:
- 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 a medium white onion, minced
- 1 TB Italian seasoning (use fresh herbs if you have them, dried are fine)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Pinch of sugar (optional)
Coat the bottom of a saucepan in olive oil, and heat. Saute the onion and garlic for about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and all the liquid in the can, the herbs and salt and pepper. Allow to cook for 20 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally and using your spoon to break up the tomatoes. Check for seasoning and add sugar if the sauce is too bitter (this will depend on the sweetness of the tomatoes you use!)
For the shells:
- 1 package large pasta shells, cooked and cooled
- 1 pound ground sausage (regular or turkey)
- 1 small white onion, minced
- 1-2 cloves of garlic
- 1 box frozen spinach, defrosted and excessive water removed
- 1 15 oz container ricotta cheese (I used fat free, and it was good)
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan
- 1 egg
- Red pepper flakes to taste, depending on how spicy you like it!
- Salt and pepper
- Shredded mozzarella cheese, for assembly
Coat a saute pan with olive oil, and heat. Add onion and garlic, and saute for several minutes. Add the sausage and cook through. Allow mixture to cool. In a separate bowl, combine spinach, ricotta, parmesan, egg, red pepper and salt and pepper. Once the meat mixture has cooled, stir into the spinach mixture.
Preheat oven to 375. Spoon some tomato sauce into the bottom of a casserole dish. Stuff about a TB of sausage-spinach mixture into each cooled shell, and then place in the dish. Repeat a million times, or until you run out of shells and/or mixture. Cover the shells with the remaining sauce, and sprinkle with shredded cheese. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the shells are heated through and the cheese is starting to brown. Serve with a big green salad. Feeds a lot of people. Or my friend Jonathan.