Zesty Stuffed Shells

Stuffed shell recipes seem to be a "dime-a-dozen" around places like Pinterest and the internet in general.  I love stuffed shells and when I came across this recipe, I just had to try my own version of it.  My own misinterpretation of the amount of red pepper flakes the recipe called for caused ours to have a little extra heat, but what is listed below should be just right (because three little tornadoes around my ankles wouldn't distract me at all while I'm cooking dinner)!  Even with the added heat, my kids ate right up and I'm sure yours would too! This meal was meant for a 9x13" pan, but I split the recipe into 2-8x8" pans - one got put in the oven and the other in the freezer for another night.  I absolutely loved the addition of lemon zest in this recipe!  We will definitely be enjoying this version of stuffed shells again!


Zesty Stuffed Shells

Zest of 1 Lemon
1 Box Jumbo Pasta Shells (at least 25-30 shells)

1/3 Cup Olive Oil
1 Tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
3/4 Tsp Fine Sea Salt
4 Cloves Garlic, minced or finely chopped
1 - 28 oz Can Crushed Tomatoes
1 - 14 oz Can Crushed Tomatoes

1 - 15oz Container Ricotta
1 Egg, beaten
1/4 Tsp Fine Sea Salt
2 Cups Shredded Mozzarella, divided
3 Tbsp Chopped Chives

Oil a 9x13" pan (approximately 1 tbsp olive oil) and sprinkle with 1/2 the lemon zest, set aside.  Start a large pot of water boiling for the shells and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the shells al dente in well salted water according to package directions.  Do not over-cook or they will tear while you are trying to fill them.  Let cool long enough to be handled.

Sauce: Combine olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt, and garlic in cold saucepan.  Stir while you heat pan over medium/high heat.  Saute around 45 seconds - everything will become fragrant, but you will not want the garlic to brown.  Stir in crushed tomatoes and bring to gentle simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat (taste test to see if more salt is needed and add now if needed - be careful not to burn your tongue) and let cool.

Filling: Stir together ricotta, egg, and salt in medium bowl until just combined.  Then stir in 1 cup mozzarella and chives, set aside.

Spread 1/3 of the sauce across the bottom of the pan. Fill each shell with ricotta mixture, and arrange in a single layer across the pan. Ladle the remaining sauce over the shells, sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and cover with foil.  Bake for 30 minutes, uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes (or until the shells are cooked through). Sprinkle with the more chives if desired and serve.

Tip:  All of the components of this dish can be pre-made separately the week you want to use them.  Making this a great meal to throw together on a week night.

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