Friday, September 23, 2011

Three Cheese Stuffed Shells with Arrabbiata Sauce

No story today, folks. Just food! Can you believe it? Okay, maybe there's time for just a little story, but then I leave you to enjoy these cheesy, gooey, carb-y stuffed shells in peace, I promise.

I'm finding it hard to believe that, in all my years of cooking, I'd never made stuffed shells until this week. Thankfully, that situation has been remedied and I've now made them twice - in as many days! No, Matt and I aren't in that much of a dinner rut, though this meal might be that good; the second showing was for a family from our church, and though stuffed shells certainly can't heal all the injustices of the world, they can give a little bit of nourishment and strength to some people going through a tough time.

In addition to being somewhat adorable, these little guys make a versatile dinner (you can add all sorts of veggies or cheese to the fillings - spinach, artichokes or sun-dried tomatoes are a good place to start, though I have a crazy urge to add crumbled bacon to the next batch!) and they're great for giving away since they can be made up to a few days ahead of time, refrigerated, and then popped into the oven when needed.

Before you ask, I did make my own sauce this time (and you can, too - it's easy and much healthier!) but this will also work with store-bought sauce for the time- or tomato-challenged. I also experimented with a few different fillings - mostly based on what I had on hand - but I think I've come up with a good basic version. Where you take it from here is entirely up to you!

Three Cheese Stuffed Shells with Arrabbiata Sauce
serves 4-6

For Sauce:
2 14-ounce cans crushed red tomatoes
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 3/4 teaspoon fine grain salt)
4-5 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
Seasonings, to taste (I added basil and oregano, but the possibilities are endless!)

For Cheese Filling:
16 ounces ricotta or cottage cheese
1 egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (or 1 clove garlic, very finely chopped)
1/2 cup cooked spinach, well drained
1 cup (about 5 ounces) grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Seasonings, as desired

1 box Jumbo dried pasta shells (about 30 shells)

Preheat oven to 350°F, and oil a 13x9-inch baking pan or casserole dish. Set aside. Fill a large saucepan with water, add a generous pinch of salt, and bring to a boil.

To make the sauce, heat the olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt and garlic in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute briefly, taking care not to brown the garlic (about 1 minute, or so). Add the tomatoes, stirring well, and bring to a gentle simmer. You can allow it to cook down a little if your sauce is watery, otherwise 4-5 minutes should be enough. Taste carefully and seasonings or salt as desired. Remove from heat and set aside. Allow to cool.

Make the filling by combining the cheese (either ricotta or cottage cheese), egg, salt, and garlic powder in a large mixing bowl. Press spinach with a napkin or paper towel to dry thoroughly before adding. Stir in the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, and add seasonings as desired. Set aside.

Cook the pasta in the large pot of water, according to the package directions. It's important that the pasta be cooked al dente (if it's too soft, it will tear during filling), so you may wish to take a minute or so off of the minimum cooking time. Keep an eye on the shells to check doneness and be sure to stir occasionally to keep shells from sticking to the bottom of the pan (this might also cause them to tear). Don't worry if a few shells get broken - I've added extras to the recipe to account for this! Drain and allow shells to cool until they can be handled safely and comfortably.

Meanwhile, spread enough tomato sauce across the bottom of the prepared baking dish to just cover it - about 1/3 of the sauce should suffice. Fill the shells gently by hand, taking care not to overstuff with cheese mixture - the edges of the shell should just touch when closed. Arrange in a single layer in the dish (there will be extra shells, which can be baked in individual ramekins or saved for another meal). Spread remaining sauce evenly over the shells - a small sprinkling of parmesan at this point makes them extra-nice - and cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes, covered, then uncover and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until shells are heated through. Serve hot, with something green and tasty - and, perhaps, a few generous slabs of crusty garlic bread!

A few notes: 'Arrabbiata' is the Italian word for 'angry,' so these are technically Three Cheese Stuffed Shells with Angry Sauce! The crushed red pepper in the sauce is the reason for this unusual name, but if you like your sauce a little less 'angry' the spice can be reduced or omitted altogether. I'd encourage you to try at least a little, though, since the heat of the pepper is a good contrast to the cool, cheesy filling.

This post is linked at:
My Sweet and Savory: My Meatless Mondays - A Southern Fairytale: Mouthwatering Monday - Skip To My Lou: Made By You Monday - Delightfully Dowling: Mangia Mondays - Keeping It Simple: Motivate Me Monday - C.R.A.F.T: Making Monday Marvellous - 33 Shades of Green: Tasty Tuesdays - Blessed With Grace: Tempt My Tummy Tuesday - Mandy's Recipe Box: Totally Tasty Tuesdays - Naptime Creations: Tasty Tuesday Party - Permanent Posies: Tuesday's Tasty Tidbits - Not Just a Housewife: Show Me What Ya Got - Chef in Training: Tuesday Talent Show - This Chick Cooks: These Chicks Cooked - Lady Behind the Curtain: Cast Party Wednesday - My Girlish Whims: Your Whims Wednesday - Blue Cricket Design: Show and Tell Wednesday - Fireflies and Jellybeans: Show Off Your Stuff - Feeding Four: What's Cooking Thursday - What Allie's Making Now: Making it With Allie - It's a Keeper: It's a Keeper Thursday - Delightful Order: Delightfully Inspiring Thursday - The 36th Avenue: Share Your Awesomeness - House of Hepworths: Hookin' Up With HoH - The Shabby Nest: Frugal Friday - Thirty Handmade Days: Pity Party - Simply Sweet Home: Friday Favorites - Fingerprints on the Fridge: Feature Yourself Friday


  1. I made raviolis with arrabiatta sauce for dinner just last night! When I asked my husband if he wanted leftovers for lunch today, he replied, "only if you have more of that angry sauce" :). That "angry" sauce makes him happy!


  2. I love stuffed pasta and yours looks divine. :) I usually don't make them often, but they're so worth it. :) Thanks for sharing your story and recipe.

  3. Wow these look soooo good. I've never made stuffed shells either, what am I waiting on??

  4. ButterYum - angry sauce also makes my husband happy - go figure! Maybe we're onto something!

    Amy - thank you. I'm not usually a pasta fan, but I agree about stuffed pasta - it's an entirely different thing!

    Jenna - that was my initial reaction, too. It never occurred to me to make them before, but now I've been initiated, I think I'll be making them more often!

  5. I just finished dinner but I'm pretty sure I could make room for some of this! It looks delicious and perfect comfort food. Any dish with pasta and I'm in. Thanks so much for linking up!

  6. Well, I haven't stuffed shells before either. I used to stuff manicotti and decided it was to hard until I found out that you can stuff them before cooking them. They cook in the sauce, if you bake it like that. Good to know. It is back on the menu! You shells look really tasty. Can they be stuffed before cooking too? Thanks for linking up with Tuesday's Tasty Tidbits.

  7. yum! this looks great! Thanks so much for linking up to Tuesday Talent Show! I would love to have you stop by and link up again tomorrow with more great projects!