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Stuffed Shells

Serves 8 to 10

TIP: Cooked zucchini stands in for some of the cheese in the traditional ricotta filling, adding bulk and moisture. Other vegetables can be substituted, including sautéed mushrooms, or baked butternut squash.

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces (1 box) jumbo pasta shells (approximately 40 shells)
  • Tomato Sauce
    • 32oz canned peeled plum tomatoes in juice
    • 2 teaspoons olive oil
    • 3/4 cup roughly chopped red onion
    • 4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
    • Salt
    • 2 sprigs fresh basil
    • Pepper
    • 1-pound bag baby spinach
    • Salt and pepper
    • 2 teaspoons olive oil, plus extra for serving
    • 2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise, and sliced thin
    • 2 scallions, chopped
    • 2 cups (16 ounces) part-skim ricotta cheese
    • 1 1/2 cups shredded reduced-fat, part-skim mozzarella cheese
    • 1 thin slice ham, chopped
    • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
    • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
    • Pinch grated nutmeg

Method

  1. Spray a baking sheet lightly with cooking spray. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the shells, and cook partway – they should have started to become tender but will still be firm to the bite, 6 to 7 minutes. Drain in a colander, and immediately transfer to the oiled baking sheet, spreading them out in a single layer so that they don’t stick together. Let cool.
  2. For the sauce, dump cans of tomatoes in a bowl and mash with your hands, or pulse in food processor to chop. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring, 1 minute. Cover, reduce heat to very low and cook until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. (Check a few times during cooking; if vegetables begin to brown, add 2 teaspoons water and stir.) Add the tomatoes with juice, basil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, cover and simmer gently 5 minute. Then simmer very gently, partially covered, until thickened, about 20 minutes. Season with 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Scrape into another container with a rubber spatula; set aside.
  3. Add the spinach and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the skillet. Place over medium heat, cover, and cook, tossing every now and then with tongs for even cooking, until wilted, 5 to 6 minutes. Drain, and let cool, then squeeze out as much liquid as you can, and chop. Transfer to a bowl; set aside.
  4. In the same skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the zucchini and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring every now and then, until tender and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add scallions during the final 1 minute. Add to the bowl with the spinach. Add the ricotta, the ham, 1/2 cup of the mozzarella, the parsley, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and the nutmeg, and stir to combine.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
  6. Spoon a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of two 9×13-inch baking dishes. Fill the cooked shells with the cheese mixture, about 1 tablespoon per shell, and arrange the shells side by side in a single layer in the prepared dishes. Spoon the remaining sauce over the shells, then sprinkle each with 1/2 cup of the mozzarella, and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan.
  7. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the filling is heated through and the cheese is melted, 25 to 30 minutes.