While my boys were home for their college break, I made a bunch of large, family-style pastas which is not something I do too often when it's just the three of us--too many tempting leftovers!! This one was so delicious and a bit out of the ordinary that I made it twice in the three weeks they were home and each time a meager three or four shells were left in the tray and that's only because I had announced that there would also be dessert that night and room had to be saved!! You understand, right?!!
Truly, you don't need to make more than a salad or maybe a vegetable side dish when you're serving this because these shells are loaded with roasted veggies and even some chopped frozen spinach, which means that this dish is pretty much a meal all on its own. Here, I used yellow pepper, eggplant and zucchini, but you could really sub in any veggie you prefer or have on hand.
And while it does take a bit of time to fill the shells, you can make this ahead or even freeze it which means that it's not only great for regular weeknight eating but would be perfect to bring to a potluck (it's also vegetarian) or really any time you need to feed a crowd.
The ratio between the cheese and roasted veggies is just perfect so that no one flavor or texture overpowers the others. Every bite is filled with tender pasta, creamy ricotta, slightly charred and caramelized veggies and tomato sauce. My mouth is watering as I write. Can't wait for my boys to come back so I can have the excuse to make this again!! (Well, there are other reasons I'd like to see them again too!!) Throw together a tray of this amazing vegetarian pasta dish and go through the day with that little secret smile knowing that it's all ready and waiting for you to come home to and simply reheat. Aah, life is good!!
Roasted Veggie and Cheese Stuffed Shells
Makes 8-10 servings (unless most of them are teenage boys!!)
Prep Time: About 40 minutes; Bake Time: About 45 minutes
- 1 yellow, red or green pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 medium eggplant, diced
- 1 zucchini, diced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 21 jumbo pasta shells (cook the whole box--if there are extra, you will have enough filling to stuff a few more)
- 15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1 large egg
- 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided (I always try to shred my own from a block--I jsut think it tastes better that way, but you can definitely use pre-shredded if you like)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, divided
- 1 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
- 2 1/2 cups marinara sauce (from the jar or try this homemade version)
1. Preheat oven to 400ºF. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the peppers, eggplant and zucchini with the olive oil. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and roast for about 20 minutes, stirring the veggies once during the process. Veggies should be tender and just getting browned. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool a bit. Lower the oven to 350ºF.
2. Meanwhile, fill a large pot with water and salt and bring to a boil. Cook the pasta al dente, according to the package directions. Drain the shells and place them on a large tray so that they don't touch and have less of a chance of sticking together.
3. In a large bowl, stir together the ricotta, egg, 1/2 cup of the mozzarella, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, the spinach, veggies and a bit of salt and pepper. Make sure the mixture is well mixed.
4. Pour about 1 cup of the marinara sauce into the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish and spread out evenly. Use a spoon to generously fill each shell with the ricotta mixture and place in the pan, seam side down. (If you have too many shells for the dish, use another small baking dish). Cover the shells with the rest of the tomato sauce and sprinkle on the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover the pan with aluminum foil, sealing the edges well, and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes, until the cheese begins to brown and the sauce is all bubbly. Serve immediately.
5. You can make this one day ahead. Cook the whole thing, let it cool. cover it with foil and then store in the fridge. Reheat in a low oven until completely heated through. This would also freeze well, though I've never done it yet. Freeze as you would any other casserole or divide it up into individual portions, double wrap in plastic wrap in a freezer bag and defrost in the fridge overnight. Remove plastic and reheat in the microwave or oven.
Note: Recipe adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod. I tinkered around a lot with this--used more veggies, omitted some of the spices and increased the cheese.