You know that generally, when I cook or bake, I enjoy simplicity. Fewer ingredients means it’s quicker and easier overall. That being said, basic lasagna/manicotti/stuffed shells just screams for some jazzing up. I’m speaking nutritionally here, since obviously cheese, pasta, and tomato sauce is outrageously perfect just as it is.Â
When I got the hankering for a baked pasta dish I opted for shells over manicotti. Why? Shells are way easier to fill. Next, I wanted to add some protein to the dish itself because heck no was I making meatballs or sausage on the side for a weeknight dinner that was taking more time than I usually set aside. Italian-style chicken sausage saved loads of fat and calories and since the pieces were diced and browned, you couldn’t even tell it was chicken instead of pork. Adding a veggie to the filling was a must and spinach was the obvious choice; unobtrusive taste for massive amount of nutrients and all it took for prep was the microwave.
It came together quicker than I thought (I swear – I would tell you if this was a company only dish) and my husband gave me one of those, “this is REALLY good” responses that I just adore. Tess, on the other hand, (and during prayer no less) declared that “I not eat that”. I reminded her that if she doesn’t want whats in front of her then she doesn’t have to eat dinner at all; she opted to try the shells. Girlfriend cleaned her plate!
Chicken Sausage and Spinach Stuffed Shells
16 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
12 oz. Italian-style chicken sausage links, finely diced
1 box pasta shells
1 tbsp. salt
2 c. part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3 c. marinara sauce
8 oz. part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated
1/4 c. chopped fresh basil
1. In a large, nonstick skillet, brown diced sausage until golden brown. Add spinach and stir to combine. Store, covered with plastic in the refrigerator, up to 1 day (or reserve on the counter for immediate use).
2. Bring a large pot of water to boil and add shells and 1 tbsp. salt. Stir and then cook until al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water until cooled enough to handle.
3. Meanwhile, add ricotta, parmesan, garlic, salt and pepper to spinach mixture and stir to combine.
4. Spread about 1 c. marinara in bottom of a 9×13 baking dish (or two 8×8 pans, if planning to freeze one).
5. Fill shells with spinach/ricotta mixture and lay, filling side up, in prepared dish.
6. Top with remaining sauce and then sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. You’ll see I added some grated parmesan to the top as well – you can feel free to do this but its not absolutely necessary.Â
7. If freezing, cover with plastic wrap then foil. If eating now, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake shells in preheated oven, uncovered, for about 35 minutes.
8. Serve, sprinkled with chopped fresh basil.