Ah, baked pasta. The cornerstone of human achievement and/or comfort food.
Even in the warmer summer months, is there anything conceivably better than pasta covered in sauce, topped with bubbly cheese? Not in my world. All the better if this pasta is stuffed with even more cheese and baked to perfection. It’s the kind of indulgence that just feels right. (Head’s up: if you’re looking for a vegan/cheese-free/low-carb recipe, look away! Although you can omit the sausage in the filling to make this dish vegetarian.)
I buy the largest shells I can find at the grocery store (usually a couple inches long, which they open up and expand once cooked), because they are the perfect shape for filling to the brim with cheesy goodness. The shells’ stuffing is actually quite reminiscent of layers in a lasagna: ricotta, spinach, sausage, and cheese. However, rather than layering the pasta with these quintessential ingredients (who are all best friends), here, you muck them all together and fill large shell pasta with them. The result is tantamount to lasagna; in other words, classic comfort food. When I take a bite of this dish, I instinctually breathe a sigh of relief . My soul just feels at ease when I eat pasta – what can I say?
- Large shell pasta (enough shells to cover the bottom of an 8x8" baking dish, ~16)
- ½ tbsp. olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Italian sausages, casings removed
- 300g ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 150g frozen spinach, thawed and drained (it's about ¼ c.)
- ¼ shredded Parmesan cheese
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. pepper
- 1 c. marinara sauce, divided
- 1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
- Preheat the oven to 350°
- In a large pot of salted water, boil pasta for about 8-9 minutes, or until the shells are slightly under al dente.
- In a medium frying pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and sauté the garlic for about 3 minutes.
- Raise heat to medium-high and add sausage, using a wooden spoon to break up the sausage into small pieces. Cook for about 10 minutes, until cooked and browned. Remove from pan onto a plate lined with paper towel, in order to drain the fat.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine ricotta, egg, spinach, Parmesan, and salt and pepper. Fold in the crumbled sausage and garlic mixture.
- Spread ¼ c. of the marinara sauce along the bottom of an 8x8" baking dish.
- Fill each shell with 1 heaping tbsp. of the ricotta mixture, and place in the baking dish.
- Top pasta with remaining marinara and sprinkle with mozzarella.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is golden and bubbling.