During my childhood I recall my Mom making stuffed shells a handful of times. It seemed like a big production as there were at least two or three cheeses scattered on the countertop, homemade tomato sauce simmering on the stove and pasta shells submerged in large pot of boiling water. The mess and fuss was worth it – you can’t go wrong with cheesy stuffed shells; it’s the ultimate comfort food. Today, I am going to keep it simple and add some nutritional benefits to the stuffing of these shells, too!
Have you ever used farmer’s cheese? It’s a good substitute for ricotta cheese – as the texture is similar, however, it’s cultured – meaning that it contains friendly bacteria or probiotics, which can help your digestive health and boost immunity (who doesn’t need that during cold and flu season?!). This tangy cheese coupled with the vitamin C in the tomato paste and sauce and you’ve got an arsenal of wellness protection. Plus, I am going to blend fresh basil into the cheese mixture – for an extra boost of flavor, as well as medicinal properties inherent in fresh herbs.
The beauty of this recipe is that the farmer’s cheese is mild (I use the unsalted variety), that you can add whatever flavors you like. I add a little umami or savoriness with Parmesan cheese and tomato paste. A hint of nutmeg and cinnamon give it another layer of joyful flavor on your tongue. Plus, a burst of fresh green color and aromatics with minced fresh basil. At the end, I mix in a bit of fresh mozzarella for creaminess. The mixture has complex flavors, but when cooked together they meld well (hopefully you think so, too!).
So without further ado, let’s get to the finished product. Make tomato sauce with pureed tomatoes (I use canned tomatoes, but feel free to use fresh and puree in a food processor), minced garlic and shallot, a hint of extra-virgin olive oil, and dried oregano. Stuff cooked shells with cheese filling. Coat shallow baking dish with sauce, add stuffed shells, cover and bake in oven. That’s it, easy peesey. (Oh, peas would be good in the filling!)
Cheesy & Creamy Stuffed Shells
Serves 4 (3 shells each)
12 large pasta shells, uncooked
16 ounces farmer’s cheese, unsalted
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 ounce fresh mozzarella cheese
For tomato sauce:
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small shallot, minced
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce or pureed tomatoes
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cook shells according to directions on package. Set aside.
In a medium bowl mix together farmers cheese, Parmesan, tomato paste, cinnamon, nutmeg and mozzarella cheese. Add a teaspoon or two of filling to each cooked shell.
On the stove, place a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat, add oil, garlic and shallots. Cook for 1 – 2 minutes until onions are translucent, add tomato sauce. Stir until heated through. Ladle sauce into a shallow baking dish; place shells over the sauce. Place in the oven and bake, covered, for 20 – 30 minutes. Remove for the oven when sauce is bubbling and shells are slightly browned.
Let cool for 5 minutes before serving. Top with extra sauce. Enjoy with a green salad or steamed broccoli.
Nutrition Information (per serving): Calories: 511, Total Fat: 17 g, Saturated Fat: 8 g, Trans Fat: 0 g, Cholesterol: 46 mg, Sodium: 362 mg, Total Carbohydrates: 62 g, Dietary Fiber: 5 g, Sugars: 13 g, Protein: 27 g
Enjoy eating simply,