I’ll be honest. Every time I make these, I adjust the recipe a little bit. So this isn’t really a recipe. It’s an invitation to join the experimentation.
I’ll also admit that these were a happy accident and I’m no kitchen genius.
Oh, and they don’t have anywhere as much cheese as they seem like they should. Don’t tell anyone how healthy they are, and no one will know.
1 box jumbo shells
4 cups of pasta sauce
2 cups fresh spinach, ribboned
1 medium onion, diced
2 cans cannellini beans
1 cup quinoa, cooked
Medium bunch fresh parsley, leaves only
2/3 medium head of garlic, peeled
1+ cup grated mozzarella
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar
1/2 cup gorgonzola
1/4 cup grated pecorino romano or parmesan
1-2 teaspoon Italian season
1 teaspoon garlic powder
4 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste
1. Start shells cooking. Water boiling, the whole bit. You’re going to have to handle these later, so cook them while you’re doing everything else, and let them drain and cool.
2. Sauté onions and 1/2 teaspoon of the Italian seasonings and some salt. Once the onions get glassy and start to brown, turn off the burner, toss in the spinach, and cover to let it wilt.
3. In a food processor, combine beans, quinoa, parsley leaves, garlic cloves, oil, vinegar, and the rest of the seasonings. Process until mostly smooth. My food processor is large, but I do it in a few batches to make sure it’s mixed and a good consistency. (I like to have quinoa cooked ahead of time so it’s cooled. About 1 cup quinoa to 1 and 3/4 cups bullion, like you would cook rice. I’ve been only using about 2/3 of the cooked quinoa last few times I’ve made this.)
4. Preheat oven to 350. Hopefully by now your shells are cooked to the point of being leathery but not soft. Drain them and set aside. Don’t cook them all the way in the water or they get gross.
5. In a heat-safe bowl, combine the onions and spinach you sautéed, and all of the lovely other things you pureed. Then add most of the cheese (save about 2/3 cup to spread on top at the end) , and rest of seasonings. Mix well. The cheese usually gets a little melty by now.
6. Pour about 1 cup sauce in the bottom of a 9″x13″ deep dish. Stuff one giant tablespoon of filling into each shell and line them up in the dish. Pour balance of pasta sauce to coat the shells. Sprinkle the last of the cheese over the top.
7. Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes, or until cheese has melted and sauce bubbles. Remove from oven and cool for ten minutes.
I can add a lot more in here, but I’m going to assume you know your way around a kitchen and can figure out simple tasks like how to sauté onions in a little olive oil and salt until they’re glassy. I also assume you know how to adjust cooking time for your oven and the type of dish you are cooking in. I use a heavy stoneware tray, where a glass or metal tray would bake faster and possibly dry out your pasta quicker. Also I don’t cover my pasta with foil, which just leaves little splashes when the sauce is bubbling at the end. That’s your call.
My only complaint so far about this whole set up is that the only big shells for stuffing available seem to be Mueller’s or Barilla. So the pasta lacks the flavor of the Barilla Plus that we normally get. But the sauce and garlic and everything else make up for it.
As soon as my basil plants are up for the challenge, I fully intend to work some fresh basil into this recipe. There’s no substitute for fresh herbs and real ingredients. (Like using good quality pasta sauce in a jar will never quite be the same as the slow-cooked red gravy that The Man makes.)
My absolute favorite thing about this pasta dish though, is that when I make it, I suddenly have a bunch of unexpected guests dropping by. And when I send it to work with The Man for lunch, I get love notes from his co-workers. Everyone loves good pasta.