Tuesday, July 21, 2015

in the freezer/on the table: ricotta and spinach stuffed pasta shells.

With Mark and I both working full time now, scheduling, planning, and prepping have now become more important than ever (I just got the "Hub" app for us and it's about to work wonders. I can feel it). The last thing we want to do after a long day of work is cook dinner, especially when all we really want to do is hang out with Makai and just eat ice cream. But, you know, #adultlife.

This is why meals that I can make for now and freeze for later are my favorite meals to make on the weekends. I get something delicious now while I have a little extra time to put in, AND I prep myself for something delicious again later without all the work! One of my favorite recipes for this is my ricotta and spinach stuffed pasta shells.

The original recipe I based this off of can be found here, but I did make a few adjustments.

  • 1 (12 oz) package of jumbo pasta shells
  • SAUCE: 
    • 1 tbsp olive oil
    • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
    • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
    • 1 lb ground turkey meat 
    • 2 tsp fennel seed
    • 1 large tomato, diced
    • 1 (28 oz) jar of pasta sauce
    • 2 (8 oz) cans of low sodium tomato sauce
    • 3 sprigs of fresh basil, stemmed and sliced (optional)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 (32 oz) container of ricotta cheese
  • 8 oz package of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 lb fresh Mozzerella, sliced or shredded, divided into 1/3 and 2/3
  • 8 oz package of shredded Parmesan cheese, divided in half
  • 1 tbsp dried Parsley
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 3 handfuls of fresh spinach, sliced

  1. Pre-heat over to 350 degrees F
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 minutes or until al dente (Remember, you will be cooking these again in the oven. So firm is still good!) and drain. 
  3. In a saucepan, heat olive oil on medium heat. Saute onion and garlic until tender. Add in ground turkey and fennel seed. Mix and cook until evenly browned. Drain. Toss in diced tomato and let simmer for about 5 minutes. Add pasta sauce, tomato sauce and fresh basil. Lower heat to a simmer, mixing regularly until ready to pour.
  4. In a large bowl, mix the eggs, ricotta, packaged shredded mozzarella, 1/3 fresh mozzerella, 1/2 package shredded Parmesan, dried parsley, and pepper until well combined. Fold in 2 handfuls of sliced spinach until well combined (it may feel like the spinach is taking over, but remember it will wilt when baked). 
  5. Spoon ricotta mixture into cooked shells and place into dishes. 
    • I safely fit 9 upright shells in each loaf pan (to freeze), and had the rest lay down in the 9x13 baking dish (for now)
  6. Sprinkle remaining fresh mozzarella and sliced spinach over shells. 
  7. Pour pasta sauce over cheese and shells 
    • I love me some meat sauce, so I make sure to completely cover, however, this doesn't make for the prettiest presentation (see here for examples of average sauce coverage). You can make this call and omit the 2 extra cans of tomato sauce, but I do recommend completely covering your frozen pasta shells. 
  8. Sprinkle remaining Parmesan over sauce
  9. Place all dishes in pre-heated oven to bake
    • Remove 3 foil pans after 30 minutes and allow to completely cool. Cover and wrap in heavy duty foil, label, and freeze.
    • Remove baking dish after 45-60 minutes, until edges are bubbly and pasta shells are set. Cool slightly and serve!
To re-heat my frozen guys, I usually pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F and bake for about 60-80 minutes. Since everything is already cooked in this dish, you just need to make sure everything is nice and hot all the way through.

While my end result might not look that magical and appetizing, I will say that it tasted delicious! (Oh, and that green thing in the back is just some pesto toast.) The best part is the stringiness you get from the fresh mozzarella. yuummmm...  But what makes this dish my favorite, is that I get to set myself up for 3 extra homemade meals of non-cooking. As an exhausted mama, I should tell you that that feeling is almost irreplaceable (and also explanatory of why I don't care what it looks like). Each loaf pan of 9 is good for a small dinner for 2 or an indulgent meal for 1. I found these incredibly helpful for when I'm home late from work and don't have time to cook, unbelievably lazy, out of town and Mark is left to fend for himself, or when I have a sitter all day and don't want to just leave a $20 for delivery pizza. And if you keep a loaf of frozen garlic bread in there too, you're set up for something fancy later on!


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