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Spinach-stuffed shells bring spring green to dinner

By Gretchen McKay Tribune News Service

Have you been feeling a little cooped lately? Me, as well, and I’m guessing that’s why I’ve been obsessed with adding fresh, leafy greens to every meal for the past couple of weeks.

Greens speak of spring, and spring means warmer weather. Also, don’t we all need to eat more vegetables?

If you’d rather work fresh greens into a cheesy entree, this easy pasta dish should hit the spot. It features fresh spinach mixed with a trio of Italian cheeses that is then stuffed into oversized pasta shells, with a generous amount of marinara on top and bottom to make it saucy. It’s easy, nutritious and super filling.

I took the shortcut of using jarred marinara sauce instead of making my own, because I wanted dinner on the table as fast and efficiently as possible.

This recipe makes enough filling for two small or one large pan of shells. For an easy make-ahead-meal, stick one in the freezer, wrapped tightly in plastic and again with foil, for later.

Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells

2 16-ounce bags fresh spinach (around 6 cups)

Salt to taste

12 ounces large pasta shells

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

Pinch or two of red pepper flakes

1 24-ounce container whole milk ricotta

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish, divided

8 ounces shredded mozzarella

1 egg, beaten

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 to 3 cups marinara or tomato sauce

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water and set next to stove.

Blanch the spinach in batches for 15 to 20 seconds, until just wilted, and, using tongs, transfer to the ice water. Then drain. Squeeze out excess water with a clean dish towel, finely chop and place in a large dry bowl.

Bring the spinach water back to a boil and add the pasta shells. Cook according to package instructions until al dente, around 10 to 12 minutes. (If the cooked shells are too soft, they will be difficult to stuff.)

Drain and toss with olive oil to keep them from sticking. Set aside to cool.

To spinach, add minced garlic, red pepper flakes, ricotta cheese, Parmesan and mozzarella. Stir to combine, then add the beaten egg and stir again to combine until well blended. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pour enough marinara or tomato sauce into the bottom of a large baking pan to cover, about ¾ to 1 cup. (You can use two smaller pans if you want to freeze one for later.)

Fill each cooked shell with a generous tablespoon of the spinach and cheese filling. Arrange in a single layer in the baking dish on top of sauce. Drizzle or spoon more tomato sauce on top (make it as saucy as you like) and cover the dish with foil.

Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan.

Yield: 6 servings

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