Growing up my mom would make stuffed shells only once or twice a year but I remember loving them so much. Now as the adult I make them too, but still only once or twice a year. I still love them so much and so does my family. They take a little extra work but not so much as to avoid the recipe. It is actually pretty simple and just more a time factor than anything else. The great news is that the recipe I’m sharing will make enough for two full dinner meals for four adults. I make one fresh the day I make the stuffed pasta shells and I freeze another batch for another day. They reheat very well from frozen.
I use ground beef, spinach, and cheese for my stuffing. This is pretty classic but you can change it up however you would like. If you are a vegetarian leave out the ground beef or use TSP (textured soy protein), or lentils. If you are not a big spinach fan you would leave that out, that makes it not Florentine, but I promise you that the majority of people have no idea it is spinach anyway so try and use it. You can make your own sauce or used a prepared sauce, whatever you prefer. I would encourage you to try the recipe as is and then customize it to fit your tastes after you have tried it this way. The customization process really is endless.
One thing I have not seen yet is whole wheat jumbo pasta shells. If they had them, that is what I would use. To date though I see only traditional pasta for the jumbo shells so that is what I still use. As a rule, I have found that any pasta dish I make that uses a hearty red sauce can really stand up to using whole wheat pasta when available and no one eating it is the wiser.
I start by browning the ground beef. Use as lean as you can afford, but whatever the percentage make sure you drain it well before you add the other ingredients. You could also use Italian sausage instead of ground beef or a combination of the two even.
Once the meat is browned and drained of excess fat, add in the thawed and well-drained spinach, cheese, and spices. Mix all ingredients well.
After you have cooked the pasta shells you need to stuff them. If you cup a shell in the palm of your hand it makes it open up a bit and easier to stuff them. I don’t measure out the stuffing, I just use a regular table spoon and smush it in the shells so they are nice and full. Place a thin layer of your sauce on the bottom of the baking dish first. Then as you stuff the shells, place them open side down into the baking dish.
Once your pasta shells are stuffed, cover with more sauce and then some shredded mozzarella and grated parmesan cheese.
Now bake the stuffed pasta shells in a pre-heated 350° F oven for 45-60 minutes. Let sit at least 15 minutes before serving when you take them out of the even.
These stuffed pasta shells are always a crowd-pleaser. Serve with a side salad if you want some extra veggies and hey, you always need garlic bread with an Italian dish like this!
Have you had stuffed pasta shells before? What kinds of ingredients do you use for your stuffing?