Jumbo Pasta Shells with Cheese Filling

Baked, stuffed jumbo pasta shells.

Baked, stuffed jumbo pasta shells.

This one-dish meatless  meal has always been considered a comfort food in my mind, and one that I’m more likely to make during the colder months of the year.  However, I had all the right ingredients, but in small quantities,  so I put together a smaller-sized version, while I was cooking on the weekend, refrigerated it, and had it ready to pull out and stick in the oven on a weeknight when I knew I would be having a busy day.  The ingredients for the filling are some of the same ones as for the stuffed portabellos, therefore I had open containers that needed to be used up.

This meal takes me back to my years living at home when my mother made it often with her homemade marinara sauce.  That’s usually what I do also, but as I said this is my “quickie” version.  I don’t think that I would have included it here on the blog except for Mr. D’s urging.  My thoughts are that most people must know how to make stuffed shells,  but Mr. D. thinks otherwise.  He says it is excellent and I should share it, so here is how it all goes together.

JUMBO PASTA SHELLS WITH CHEESE FILLING

Yield:   Serves 4 – 5

Ingredients:

  • 16 – 20 jumbo pasta shellsIMG_4714
  • 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 4 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed as dry as possible
  • 1/2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 jar  (30 0z. ) prepared spaghetti sauce or homemade marinara suce

Directions:

1.  Prepare pasta as directed on the package.  Undercooked a little so they keep their shape is good.  Drain.  Rinse with cold water. Drain and arrange on a kitchen towel in a single layer ready to fill.

2.  Meanwhile mix together the ricotta, 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, and the Parmesan cheese.  Add egg, spinach and seasonings and mix to blend well.

Ricotta cheese, spinach, egg, cheese and seasonings.

Ricotta cheese, spinach, egg, cheese and seasonings.

3.  Using a smallish spoon, fill the shells with the cheese mixture.

4.  Lightly spray a square baking dish ( 9″ square) with baking spray.  Spoon sauce into the bottom of the dish, enough to cover the bottom in an even layer.  Arrange the shells in a single layer on the sauce.

Arrange filled shells on a layer of sauce.

Arrange filled shells on a layer of sauce.

5.  At this point,  if you will be baking the casserole at a later time,  cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you plan to bake it.  If baking now, continue by pouring 1 – 1 1/2 cups more sauce over the shells and bake at 350*F for 30 minutes or until hot.  Sprinkle with additional mozzarella cheese.   Turn off the oven and allow the dish to remain in the warm oven to melt the cheese.

Hot and melty, just out of the oven.

Hot and melty, just out of the oven.

6.   To bake at a later time:   remove the casserole from the fridge about 1 hour ahead to bring to room temperature.  Preheat the oven and then bake as above,  sprinkling on the mozzarella at the end of baking time.

Note:  a serving is 3 – 4 shells per person.   Serve with a side salad and garlic bread if desired.

So good---with just a salad.

So good—with just a salad.

SOURCE:    Family recipe, source unknown

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Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant, (aubergine in French, melanzane, in Italian),  is a vegetable that I am not overly fond of, and therefore don’t cook it very often.  However there is one dish that I really like and that is eggplant parmesan.  This can be a lengthy dish to prepare  what with slicing and breading, then cooking the eggplant before you even begin to put the remaining ingredients with it and baking it.  In addition, eggplant has the ability to absorb large amounts of oil that it is cooked in,  another reason why I seldom make it.

Eggplant Parmesan and pasta.

Eggplant Parmesan and pasta.

When I happened upon this recipe for EP.Parmesan I really took notice because the eggplant is baked after having been dredged in flour, egg, and panko. There is no oil involved for the eggplant to soak up, and the baked slices come out fork tender with a crisp outer crust.  Then you layer them in a baking dish with sauce and cheese, bake it up, and eat it  knowing you have made a dish that is low in fat ( 9 g. total; 5 g. saturated), yet still very tasty and healthy for you.

This casserole make 6 generous servings, and if you have any left over you might try warming it up, and serving it in a crispy hard roll for a great sandwich.

EGGPLANT PARMESAN

Yield   6 generous servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

    Aubergines from http://www.usda.gov/oc/photo/9...

    Aubergines from http://www.usda.gov/oc/photo/98c0468.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • 2 egg whites, lightly beaten with a little water (or use egg substitute, i.e., Egg Beaters)
  • 1  1/2 cups panko crumbs
  • 1  3/4 lbs. eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 3 cups marinara sauce, plus more if serving with pasta
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 cups reduced-fat shredded mozzarella
  • 10 – 12 large basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 package spaghetti, cooked according to pkg. directions  (optional)

1.  Heat oven to 375*F.  Using a large baking sheet, line with parchment paper and coat with nonstick cooking spray.

2.  Place flour, egg whites and panko in separate shallow dishes.  Dredge eggplant slices in flour, dip in egg, and coat with panko.  Place on prepared baking sheet and bake at 375* for 40 – 45 minutes until easily pierced with a fork.

Eggplant slices breaded and already baked.

Eggplant slices breaded and already baked.

3.  Spread 1 cup of sauce over the bottom of a 13 x 9 – inch baking dish.  Place half the eggplant slices over sauce and season with 1/8 tsp.  each of the salt and pepper.

A layer of sauce in the bottom of the dish, then eggplant, then more sauce.

A layer of sauce in the bottom of the dish, then eggplant, then more sauce.

Layer with 1 cup of sauce, 1 cup mozzarella and the basil, roughly torn into pieces.

Sprinkle with grated mozzarella and chopped basil.

Sprinkle with grated mozzarella and chopped basil.

Repeat layering with remaining eggplant, salt, pepper, sauce and mozzarella.

Next layer of eggplant in place, to be covered with more sauce and cheese.

Next layer of eggplant in place, to be covered with more sauce and cheese.

4.  Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the Parmesan over top and loosely tent with foil.  Bake at 375* for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

All hot and melty with cheese.

All hot and melty with cheese.

5.  If desired serve with cooked spaghetti, remaining Parmesan and additional sauce.

Serve with pasta for a hearty, meatless meal.

Serve with pasta for a hearty, meatless meal.

SOURCE:   Family Circle.com/healthyfamilydinners

Stuffed Cubanelle Peppers, Italian Style

Stuffed Cubanelle Peppers and Rigatoni

One day about a year or so ago I was watching Lidia’s Kitchen on Public Television, and on that day she made several dishes all featuring cubanelle peppers.  One of those dishes was the stuffed peppers I have for you here.  Although I did not take notes as I watched I remembered basically what she did.  I must point out that this is my adaptation of her recipe since I did not get exact amounts of ingredients.  Given the fact that these peppers are readily available at this time of year, I tend to make this when they are abundant.

Cubanelle peppers, also known as Italian frying peppers, are not what you usually think of when you want to make stuffed peppers.  Usually the bell pepper is what comes to mind.  In a previous post I presented my recipe for Homestyle Stuffed Peppers, using bell peppers,and promised then that I would tell you of my other recipe for stuffed peppers.  So this is it.  I like these particularly well because the skins are very thin, and the flesh surprisingly meaty.;  they also bake in their sauce in about 90 minutes. I like to serve them with a pasta; one shaped to hold the sauce well.  In this case I used a ribbed rigatoni.  A tossed salad completed the meal.  Oh, yes, a glass of red wine, too.

INGREDIENTS 

SERVINGS:   6

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 nicely shaped cubanelle peppers, seeds and ribs removed (do not choose peppers that are bent and gnarly )
  • 1 pound bulk Italian sausage, mild, or hot;  your preference
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup seasoned fine bread crumbs
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 large jar prepared spaghetti sauce or home made marinara sauce

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1.  Prepare the peppers:  cut off tops, remove bulk of seeds and carefully remove the ribs with your fingers, taking care not to crack or break the pepper.  In the bottom of each pepper, cut a small hole.  This lets the meat juices escape and the sauce to enter.

2.  Prepare the meat filling:  In a large bowl, combine the sausage, ground beef, egg,bread crumbs, minced onion and garlic.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

3.  Using a tablespoon, put meat filling into the peppers, pushing down gently with the spoon or tapping the pepper gently on the counter .  Take care not to pack the meat too tightly.  It needs room to expand so the filling will be  tender.  If you have meat filling left over after stuffing the peppers, form it into small meat balls.  These can be tucked in around the peppers.

4.  Spray a baking dish with non-stick spray; one that is large enough to hold the peppers and the sauce.  Pour enough sauce in the dish to cover the bottom.  Lay the stuffed peppers on the sauce (and any meatballs).

    

Pour the remaining sauce over all.

5.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 1/2.

The smell of these cooking is so wonderful it will make you hungry.  In the last half hour of cooking time, boil water and cook pasta.

Serve with the sauce spooned over the pasta with grated Parmesano-Reggiano cheese on top.

SOURCE:   adapted from a recipe by Lidia Bastianich

Italian Style Stuffed Zucchini

At this point in the summer season there is an abundance of zucchini, with many gardeners looking for ways to prepare it, or friends and neighbors to share with.  I am fortunate in being a neighbor to a gardener, and he is kind in sharing his over-flow with us. Soooo, zucchini is on the menu!  I spent some time on a recent afternoon browsing through cookbooks looking for some different ways to prepare it. I had a secondary reason to look at recipes; my husband and I are starting a low-carbohydrate eating plan, and so low-carb. recipes was the second objective.  Zucchini fits the bill on this count:  low calorie and low carbohydrate.  I reasoned that by stuffing it with a meat mixture, I could maintain that low carbohydrate profile.

Italian Style Stuffed Zucchini

My search turned up a recipe for meatballs using Italian sausage and ground pork. Since I did not have any ground pork readily available, I substituted ground turkey instead and paired it with hot Italian sausage.  I mixed up the whole recipe which was more than what was needed to stuff my zucchini, so I formed the  remainder into meatballs and froze them, ready for another dish in the future.  Once I had the zucchini stuffed, I put them into a baking dish, poured some of my fresh tomato marinara sauce over them and baked till the squash was tender. The final step was to sprinkle with mozzarella cheese, let it melt in the hot oven, and serve this dish with a salad.

On a more personal note,  my motivation for starting a low-carbohydrate diet is obviously to loose a few pounds.   I’m clearly not overweight, but there are a few extra bulges here and there, and since  I am planning on competing in November in a Ballroom Dance Competition,  the time to begin a weight loss program is now when there are so many vegetables available.  I have followed a low carbohydrate plan in the past and it has proven to be a good one for me,  because once I go a few days without carbs, I no longer have a desire for them and I am perfectly satisfied with all the other foods I can have.   After about two weeks of eating like this you can start to add carbs back into your diet slowly, in small amounts so you do not feel totally deprived.  My goal is to lose 5 pounds.  I’ll keep you posted on how I do.

ITALIAN STYLE STUFFED ZUCCHINI

SERVES   4

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 medium sized zucchini, halved lengthwise.   (If you use large zucchini, you will need to pre bake them a little in advance of stuffing them.
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 large shallots, finely diced
  • 1/3 cup part-skim ricotta cheese  (This helps keep the meat mixture moist)
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces lean ground pork, or ground turkey
  • 2 ( 4 oz. ) links hot Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large jar prepared spaghetti sauce
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1.  Prepare a shallow baking dish by spraying with non-stick spray.   Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Pour a small amount of spaghetti sauce in the baking dish as a base for the zucchini.

2.  Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat;  swirl to coat.  Add garlic and shallots to pan; sauté  3 minutes or until shallots are softened, stirring frequently .

3.  Combine shallot mixture, ricotta, and next 8 ingredients (through egg) in a medium bowl.

4.  Prepare zucchini for filling by creating a “boat”;  i.e., scoop out seeds and some of the flesh.  I used a melon-baller, and  it was easy to do.  Leave enough flesh, so zucchini will support itself, and maintain its shape.

5.  Fill each zucchini half with a generous portion of the meat filling.  Arrange in baking dish, and pour marinara sauce over the top.  If you have extra meat filling, either make more zucchini, or freeze for later use.

6.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes.  Pierce zucchini for doneness: they should pierce easily and be tender.

7.  Remove foil, sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.  Return to hot oven just to melt the cheese.

I found that the juices from the zucchini and meat added to the volume of sauce,  so I think this dish would go well with some pasta to put all that sauce over.   If I were eating carbohydrates now, that’s what I would do. 😦    Instead we had this dish with a  spinach salad, and it was very satisfying.

SOURCE:  adapted from a  recipe from Cooking Light Annual, 2008

Marinara Sauce

One of the things I like to have on hand at all times is Marinara Sauce.  This is the basic tomato sauce that I use the most.  This got me to thinking that from time to time I would write about foods that I consider “kitchen basics”, and this is one of them.  It is extremely easy to make,  and so worthwhile because it is so versatile.  During the time the sauce is simmering you can be doing something else.  This is a nice thick sauce that is great with any pasta shape. If you think it needs to be thinned down a little for a particular recipe you can add a little white wine to it.  It can also handle the addition of meatballs or sausage, and you can certainly add additional seasonings to your taste.

This recipe makes about 2 quarts (8cups);  3-4 cups will serve 4 over pasta.

MARINARA SAUCE

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil  (note;  use a good quality EVOO, one with a fruity flavor, because this enhances the sauce.)
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 2 garlic gloves, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 2 ( 32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes (note: here too, be sure to use the best canned ones you can find, preferably the San Marzano variety.)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (my preference)
In a large sauce pan, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic and sauté  until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.  Saute until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
 Add the tomatoes, bay leaves and any other seasonings you prefer, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens,about an hour.  Remove bay leaves and discard.  Season the sauce with more salt and pepper to taste.
I like to double this recipe when I make it, so I can freeze the extra in 2-3 cup portions in freezer bags, or containers;  then it’s ready when I need some.
Source:  Giada De Laurentis, “Everyday Italian”,  with slight modifications.