Well hello there, Meatless Monday…
I always thought you were a gimmick… and going to be a drag. I’m not really a “joiner” so I danced around your Veggie Monday vibe for about a year. But, then, the health-conscious mamma in me didn’t think my resistance made sense anymore. Why wouldn’t I want Jamie and Parker Lee to eat more dark leafy greens, root veggies and the like? We’d set aside one day of the week to be good and mindful.
So here is my compromise dish, of sorts. Yummy, cold-weather comfort food (who didn’t love stuffed shells as a kid?!) re-imagined just for you. Instead of ground beef, I stuff the shells with a week’s worth of spinach and creamy, naturally sweet acorn squash. Jamie was equally as excited about these spinach-stuffed shells as he was my Low(er) Fat Buffalo Chicken Wing Dip so I think I’m on to something good…
- For the shell filling:
- 1 pkg large shells (*depending on their size, you will use about 25 of them)
- 1 large acorn squash or small butternut squash cooked (will use 1 ½ cups cooked winter squash)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 tightly packed cups baby spinach, stems removed
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- cup finely grated pecorino cheese
- 1 cup grated Asiago or mozzarella for topping
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Quick red sauce:
- 1 cup crushed San Marzano tomatoes, with juice
- 1 tablespoon evoo
- ⅓ cup chopped onions
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- teaspoon dried marjoram
- cup water
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- Pinch of sugar
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- For the squash: Cut squash in half (through the stem end), lightly grease cut sides and place face down on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until flesh is tender and “scoopable.” Once cool enough to the handle, scoop out the flesh into a bowl and set aside.
- For the Quick Red Sauce: In a medium-sized sauce pot over low heat, add olive oil. Stir in the onions and season very well with salt. Add garlic and continue to sautee over low heat until both onions and garlic are translucent. Raise the heat to medium-high and add crushed tomatoes with juice; season with basil and marjoram. Once the mixture reaches a boil, add ½ cup water and reduce to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes, stir and season accordingly with salt and a pinch of sugar. Reduce heat to very low and allow to gently simmer while making filling.
- For the par-cooked shells: Fill a 3-quart sauce pot with water, salt well and bring to a boil. Par-cook the pasta shells until toothsome (there’s almost a bit of crunch to them), about 6 minutes. Pour into a colander, or remove from water with a fine-mesh strainer. On a large plate, arrange shells in a single layer and allow to cool.
- For the spinach/ricotta/squash filling: Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees.
- In a large sautee pan over medium heat, pour 2 tablespoons olive oil and allow to heat. Add onions, season very well with salt and pepper and sautee until aromatic. Add garlic and continue to sautee until both are translucent. Stir in the spinach and season with salt. Allow the spinach to slowly cook down. Once it is completely wilted (and about 1/10th its original size!), remove to a colander or fine-mesh strainer. Once it is cool enough to touch, squeeze out any extra moisture- either wringing it with your hands or using a large spoon to press the spinach against the strainer. It’s very important to remove as much water as possible so your shell filling won’t be watery and flavorless!
- In a large bowl, stir together ricotta, pecorino and salt and pepper to taste. Once you are satisfied with the seasoning, add cooked spinach and cooked squash. Vigorously stir (almost whipping by hand) the mixture until all ingredients are well-combined.
- In a 13x9 oven-proof container, spoon ⅓rd of red sauce, making sure the bottom is lightly “greased” so that the baking shells won’t stick. With a small teaspoon, begin to fill the shells so that they are just full but not overflowing. Neatly arrange them in the pan. Continue until the pan is full. Pour the remaining red sauce over the shells. Finish with the grated Asiago or mozzarella.
- Bake for 30 minutes, or until the shells are tender, the filling is warm and the top layer of cheese is melted
Meatless Monday, I am a convert!
(And here is the ooey, gooey, melt-y, faboo finished dish!)