My husband has been eating healthier lately and watching his portion size, so while I was at the library I thought it would be a good idea to look at the vegetarian cookbooks. I figured even if I didn’t find any main dishes I like I’m sure I’d discover some side dishes worth trying. As I went through the books page by page at home, I actually found myself bookmarking a lot of recipes for the future. This recipe for Stuffed Veggie Shells had an amazing picture accompanying it and the recipe looked similar to another recipe I’ve made a few times, except this one is much healthier. The recipe which I’ve made before, that I’m referencing, is for Spinach & Four-Cheese Manicotti (but stuffed in pasta shells) by Kittencalskitchen on food.com. The recipe is truly amazing. Both my husband and I love it. It’s definitely a dish you can cook for a fancy dinner and people will be impressed. When I’ve made it before I’ve kind of wondered how unhealthy it was for us. I guess I never really realized it until comparing the recipe against the Stuffed Veggie Shells recipe. Stuffed Veggie Shells calls for fresh broccoli and carrots in addition to the spinach. It also uses much less ricotta and mozzarella cheese, plus no cream cheese. I decided to make this meal knowing if we liked it, it would be a great alternative to our favorite dish.
As you can see from reading the ingredients and instructions, the majority of the filling for these shells are vegetables, with some ricotta cheese. The chopped spinach is the only vegetable that’s frozen, however you could definitely buy fresh spinach instead. Chopping the vegetables takes awhile so if you have time the day before I would suggest doing it then. That’s what I did and the night I cooked this dish it easily saved me 20 minutes. When it was time to prepare the carrots I chose to use my vegetable peeler and go down the length of the carrot until it diminished. This gave me nice thin slices, which I then cut in half, instead of trying to cut the carrot into thin matchsticks. After the vegetables are cut it’s really just a matter of cooking them and following the rest of the instructions to make the stuffing mixture.
From previously making stuffed shells there’s a tip I’ve learned along the way that I’d like to share. Trust me, it will help you. When you’re boiling the pasta shells, make sure to stir them frequently. If you don’t they tend to stick together and will be harder to separate after you’ve drained them. Also, make sure to use a large enough pot. The water will take much longer to heat, but it’s much better than having water boil over the top because the pot is too full.
When the vegetable mixture is ready and the shells are done, use a large spoon to stuff the shells. You’ll find that you may need to pry open the shells with your fingers before you can begin stuffing them. You’ll also find that some shells may be ripped. If they’re ripped slightly, that’s okay, you can still use them as there’s a thin layer of sauce and cheese that cover the top hiding any imperfections. After each shell is stuffed, give it a gentle squeeze to hold the mixture together and make it more compact.
|Ricotta cheese added into the vegetable mixture|
|Ready to pop in the oven|
In the end, when I pulled the shells out of the oven they looked amazing. I felt very proud, especially if they tasted as good as they looked. Ryan and I took our first bite and thoroughly enjoyed them. We both agreed that the Spinach & Four-Cheese Manicotti dish is amazing, but what this dish being so similar and much healthier, we vowed to make this meal from now on as its replacement.
Adapted from Woman's Day Wednesday Night is Vegetarian: The Eat Well Cookbook of Meals in a Hurry, by Editors of Woman's Day (Amazon Affiliate link)
Prep time: 30 mins.
Cook time: 35 mins.
- 1 box (12 oz.) jumbo pasta shells
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 2 ½ cups chopped broccoli
- 1 cup shredded carrots
- 1 small onion, minced
- 1 package (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1 cup part skim ricotta cheese
- 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 jar (approx. 24 oz.) marinara sauce
- 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
- Pre-heat oven to 400˚F. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta shells and cook according to directions on package. Drain and cool (for a few minutes) before stuffing.
- Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté broccoli, onion, carrots, and garlic for 3 minutes or until just tender.
- Add spinach and a 1/2 cup of water. Cover with lid and cook 2 minutes.
- Remove lid; cook until liquid is mostly evaporated. Remove from heat and add basil, ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, salt & pepper. Stir to combine well.
- Spread approximately 3/4 (of the jar) marinara sauce on the bottom of a 13 x 9 in. baking dish.
- Use a large spoon to fill each shell with the vegetable mixture. Arrange shells in rows inside baking dish. Spoon remaining marinara sauce over the tops of stuffed shells (they will not be fully covered). Sprinkle with mozzarella. Cover dish tightly with foil and bake for 35 minutes.