Monday, February 21, 2011

Spinach Ricotta Stuffed Shells

The night the Hubby left for DR, I was planning on making lasagna, and I did, managing to do it from start to finish in under 45 minutes.  Let me just say that it was certainly not the best lasagna I have ever made, but being starving and having to run out the door quickly with the hubby to catch his flight, I think it was acceptable.  The same day I made the lasagna, I saw some huge shells that could be stuffed in the grocery and bought them on a whim.  I have eaten stuffed shells before, but I have never made them.  And of course when I am trying to be cooking in smaller amounts to feed just myself, I cook the entire 1 pound package of shells, then think to myself, "now what am I going to do - eat pasta for a week straight"?!  I obviously didn't think that one through completely!  Oh well, and the answer is yes, I'm going to be eating pasta for a week straight.  Good thing I like it!

I decided to make this dish with what I had on hand - I was not in the mood to go to the store for anything, so I just opened my fridge and freezer and went to work grabbing whatever sounded good, and decided on spinach ricotta shells.  Yum.  It all came together very easily because I had frozen the leftover sauce from when I made the lasagna on hand.  When I was making this dish, I decided I only wanted a small amount of the marinara over the shells- I wanted to taste the filling more than the topping, and was very happy with the end result.

Spinach Ricotta Stuffed Shells:

Stuffed Shells with Marinara Sauce, Vegan Parm and a Salad
 1/2 box x-large shells, cooked until just al dente

1 lb. firm tofu. drained and cut into 16 cubes
1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked for a few hours and drained
3 tablespoons fresh lemon  juice
2 tablespoons olive oil ( not extra virgin)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon dried basil

Veggie Filling:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, small diced, about 1 cup
1/2 cup small diced orange or red bell pepper
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large jalapeno, minced
2 cups chopped, frozen spinach
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 pinches cayenne pepper

Marinara Sauce, as needed

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2.  First cook the shells.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the shells just until al dente, because we will continue to cook them in the oven.  Once the pasta has finished cooking, do not dump out the pasta and water into a colander in the sink - use a large slotted spoon to remove the pasta from the water - save the water for blanching the tofu.
3.  Prepare the ricotta filling:  in the same salted water that the pasta was cooking in.  Slice the tofu into large cubes and place in the boiling water.  Allow it to boil for about 5 minutes.  Whenever I use tofu in a recipe where I will not be doing a lot of cooking to the final product, I always blanch it in salted water to remove any of the bacteria that may be hanging out on it from sitting in the same water in its package for a while. 
4.  Drain the tofu, squeezing out as much water as possible by pressing the back of a wooden spoon against it.  Place it directly into the bowl of a food processor.  Add the soaked cashews, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, sea salt and basil.  Blend until mixture resembles the texture of ricotta - this will take several minutes.  You also want to be sure that there are no chunks of cashews hanging around in the mixture.  Set mixture aside until ready to use.
5.  Prepare the veggie part of the filling now.  In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion, pepper, garlic and jalapeno.  Cook just until onion softens.  Add the frozen spinach and cook just until it thaws.  Now add the sea salt, black pepper, smoked paprika and cayenne pepper.  Stir the entire mixture to coat.  Add the ricotta to this mixture and stir to coat.  Season to taste.
5.  Now is the fun part: stuffing the shells!  Prepare your baking pan - spray a little bit of oil on the bottom and sides of the pan and cover the bottom with a thin layer of sauce.  Take about 2 tablespoons of the filling and place in the center of the shell, pressing the sides together.  Place on top of the sauce in the pan.  Repeat this process with the remaining shells.  This filling will only fill about half of the full package of shells.  So you can reserve them for another stuffing event and freeze the first batch.  Then it's nice and easy to serve these shells at the last minute.
6.  Once all the shells are filled and in the pan, pour desired amount of sauce over top and bake in the oven just until heated through.
7.  Serve the shells topped with vegan Parmesan and a salad.  Nice and healthfully filling.  Not too heavy.  I like to make my own Parmesan -style topping, which gives the shells a nice salty, toasty flavor.  It keeps in the fridge for a long time.  I'll post the recipe for it one of these days.  This is seriously so good!



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