This is one of those super easy recipes that tastes like you spent longer than you did. Woke up this past Saturday morning wanting to make baked stuffed shells for Alyssa and Jill since Allen and I were going out with friends that evening. Went online to find a recipe and found one on a pretty trusted blog, Simply Recipes dot com, but I didn't have ricotta cheese or bread crumbs or tomatoes. So I prepared a list of these things since Allen said he'd go to the store for me. It was about 5 degrees outside or maybe I would have went :-]
Want to see what I saw out my window Saturday morning?
This is the view from my balcony of "the duck pond" in Eden Park. If you click on the picture to see an enlarged view, I bet you'll see a couple of nuts running around the circular road surrounding the pond.
Oh wait. Here's a closer view of more nuts I saw on Saturday morning from my window …
Yes, they are running in snow and ice. Runners go by here almost every weekend. They are likely groups that are training for a marathon. Bob Roncker's Running Spot (a popular sporting shoe store in nearby O'Bryonville) organizes groups to go running together. I don't really think they are nuts, but it's fun to make fun of them from my cozy living room.
Back to stuffed shells. So I was reading the recipe through to the end (like a good cook should) and it said "adapted from a recipe on the side of the box of Barilla pasta shells." Whaaat???!!!
I'm sitting here holding that dang box. After reading the box recipe, I realized I had everything it called for. So I broke the news to Allen that he didn't need to go to the grocery after all. He seemed to be fine with that.
Here's another cool picture from my living room.
I like this one because it looks like a snowglobe. But this photo is untouched. We just happen to live right in the middle of this curve.
So long story short. The recipe I wound up using turned out better than the more complicated one I was going to use.
The secret is good Italian sausage, and keeping the filling fairly simple and not making it goopy. You could use chicken sausage or turkey sausage also. If you live in Cincinnati, go to Avril-Bleh & Sons downtown on Court Street for good Italian sausage (you can people watch cuz it's by the courthouse) or go to Findlay Market and get some quality and tasty chicken sausages from Kroeger & Sons Meats.
With the recipe below, I used about 25 shells and filled each with a 1 1/2 Tablespoon scoop. The filling includes sausage, spinach, Parmigiano cheese, fontina cheese, egg, onion, garlic, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
The original recipe on the side of the box says to use a whole box of Jumbo Shells but you'd have to stuff another 17 or so in this dish. If you do want to use all shells, increase meat to 1 lb. and onion to 1 cup. You may also want to fill with slightly less than a full scoop.
1 jar of sauce is just enough to completely cover the shells, top and bottom.
Baked Stuff Shells with Italian Sausage, Spinach and Fontina Cheese
Compliments of JennaDish
25 jumbo shells (about 2/3 of a 12 oz box)
12 oz (3/4 lb) Italian Sausage (or chicken or turkey variations)
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 oz (1 1/2 cups) chopped frozen spinach or chopped fresh baby spinach
2/3 – 1 cup chopped onion (I used less)
1 clove garlic, mined
1 teaspoon salt
few grinds of fresh ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
1/3 cup (about 3 oz) fontina cheese, chopped small (optional)
1 26-oz jar spaghetti sauce (marinara or tomatoe and basil work well)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (I used bagged shredded "pizza cheese")
Dried basil for sprinkling on top (optional)
Preheat oven to 350o.
Cook Jumbo Shells according to package directions; drain, reserving 1/3 cup of the pasta cooking water if using fresh spinach. Not needed if you are using frozen.
Cook sausage in large skillet over medium high heat until just done (no longer pink). Drain grease and put sausage in food processor to grind smaller, just a few pulses.
Saute onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat about 4-5 minutes. Add ground sausage.
If using fresh spinach, add spinach and pasta water to onions and continue cooking 10 minutes.
If using frozen spinach, add to sausage and onion mixture and cook 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add seasonings and blend well. Let cool in refrigerator, mixing occasionally to allow all meat to cool.
When completely cool, add the egg, fontina cheese and Parmigiano cheese.
Pour 1 cup spaghetti sauce into a 13×9 inch baking dish. Fill jumbo shells with meat mixture and place in dish. Pour reminaing sauce over shell and sprinkle with mazzarella cheese over the top, cover with foil.
Bake for 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated. During the last 5 minutes, remove the foil and place the dish about 6 inches under the broiler. Turn broiler on and watch closely not to burn the cheese.
Remove from oven and let sit about 5 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with dried basil if desired.