There is something about a huge pot of sauce simmering away on the stove that makes me happier and more excited than I should probably admit in public. I haven’t made a large amount of sauce in a while, so I figured the time was right and I got to it. Tomatoes, onion, garlic and an unconventional ingredient had a dance party while I prepped everything else. This stuffed shells recipe takes a bit of time, but trust me, it’s well worth the energy.
Growing up, my grandma was the queen of large pots filled to the brim with spaghetti. They would inevitably end up in the refrigerator, set for leftovers, which makes sense, unless you know our family. She would sneak out a bite here and there for a snack, or we (my mom and I included) would grab a few spoonfuls and eat it over the kitchen sink smashed in between a folded slice of bread or tortilla and a cold slice or two of butter. We all carry a deep seeded love for Italian food in my family, almost more so than Mexican food, which is a big deal in our house.
I’ve had a rough couple of weeks, having not been feeling well and having no energy, so getting back into the kitchen felt good. It felt like things were getting back on track. For me, cooking is therapeutic. I can be creative but quiet and it almost turns into a form of meditation for me. My kitchen has become a sacred space where I can create and relax all under a time constraint. Life gets busy and you start to rush through things, but cooking forces you to stop and wait. You can’t cook things faster than they want to be cooked, so you learn to be patient.
I decided to make stuffed shells after seeing an Instagram post that triggered a craving. It took me a week or so to find the time to make them, but oh man, I am so glad I did. The idea of stuffed shells can be a little daunting, especially if you have never made them, but once you have all the pieces together, you are that much closer to an amazing tasting puzzle. Toasting the tomato paste in the oil and drippings from the meat adds a layer of flavor that I love, and the spinach makes the sauce a bit more hearty while keeping it light.
- 1 lb ground turkey
- 1 medium white or brown onion, diced
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 28oz can whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 15 oz can of diced tomatoes, no salt added
- 4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
- 6 oz pureed spinach
- 3-4 basil leaves
- ¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 15 oz Ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 15-20 jumbo shells
- ¼ cup mozzarella cheese
- 2 tsp salt, more to taste
- 3 tsp black pepper
- 4 tsp oregano
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- Dice onion, grate your cheeses, set ingredients aside.
- Heat olive oil over medium heat.
- Cook half the onion to heavy bottomed pot until translucent. Add garlic and cook until fragrant.
- Add ground turkey to pot, season with 1 tsp salt, pepper and 2 tsp oregano. Cook until thoroughly done. Skim out of pot and set aside, leaving juices in the pot.
- Simmer any liquid down until reduced and thickened. Add tomato paste and cook until toasted and fragrant.
- Add remaining onion to pot and stir in with tomato paste. Cook until translucent.
- Pour whole and diced tomatoes in slowly so they do not splatter, add remaining garlic, salt, pepper and oregano.
- Simmer for about 20-30 minutes, partially covered, on medium-low heat until you can smell it, stirring occasionally.
- Uncover and turn off the heat, letting the sauce cool slightly. Using a blender, puree the sauce until mostly smooth.
- Stir in spinach, basil leaves and ground meat, turning on the pot to simmer for roughly 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
- While the sauce is cooling, start your pasta water and heat oven to 350 degrees.
- Once boiling, add salt, stir and add in your shells, careful not to crack them.
- Cook the pasta per directed on the box, do not overcook. Once done, remove the shells from the water and set aside to cool slightly.
- When the pasta is cooking, mix together the Ricotta, egg, Parmesan, pinch of salt, pepper, and any leftover basil.
- In an oven safe baking dish, spoon enough sauce in to cover the bottom of the dish.
- Take one of the shells, and with a spoon, scoop a decent amount (2-3 Tbsp) of the cheese mixture into the shell. Repeat until baking dish is full of stuffed shells.
- Spoon enough sauce on the shells to lightly cover them. Sprinkle with mozzarella and place in the oven.
- Cook in the oven for 20 minutes, or until sauce and cheese are bubbling.
- Remove and let sit for about 5 minutes, serve while hot.
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