Well, I’ve officially joined the ranks of cold and flu season with what is hopefully the last day of a bad cold. I hate getting sick. So our weekend was pretty quiet, though we did manage to get our Christmas tree up and mostly decorated. I say mostly because upon removing our box of tree ornaments from the back of the closet, we discovered that our Santa tree topper had somehow gotten himself beheaded over the last eleven months. I swear I don’t know how it happened.
But, the tree is up, some presents are wrapped, the cats have only tried to unwrap two of them, and I get the sinking feeling that I’m sliding down the slippery slope that is head-cold-induced blathering, so we’ll just get to the recipe now.
I had a half a box of jumbo shells to use up, and I was thinking of making something vegetarian, but when I asked Matt his thoughts, he said no, he wanted MEAT! And RED SAUCE! And so it came to be. I found a recipe that added spinach to the meat filling, and we both found it hearty and scrumptious. I hope you will too. Enjoy!
Source: adapted from 2, 4, 6, 8: Great Meals for Couples or Crowds by Rachael Ray
½ a 12 oz. box of jumbo shells
1 lb. ground sirloin
1 small onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced, divided
1 ½ tsp dried Italian seasoning
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
15 oz. can tomato sauce
10 basil leaves, julienned
1 (10 oz.) box chopped frozen spinach, thawed
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup fresh bread crumbs
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for topping
½ cup grated fresh mozzarella
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Grease a 9×13” baking dish. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt it generously, then boil the pasta shells according to package directions. Remove with a spider or other slotted spoon to a plate. Drizzle with olive oil and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground sirloin and cook, breaking up with a spoon or potato masher, until crumbled and no traces of pink remain. Add the onion and cook a few minutes more, until the onion has softened. Add 2 cloves of the minced garlic and cook a minute more. Lower the heat to medium, add the Italian seasoning, nutmeg, kosher salt, and black pepper to taste. Stir to combine and cook about 1 minute to let the flavors marry. Shut off the heat.
Make the sauce. In a small stockpot, add a small drizzle of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the remaining clove of minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Add the crushed pepper flakes and stir about 30 seconds, then pour in the tomato sauce. Stir to combine; let it go about a minute to heat up slightly, then stir in about 2/3 of the basil and shut off the heat.
Remove the spinach from the box and place half of it in a clean, dry kitchen towel. Vigorously wring it out over the sink until the water is squeezed out. Place it in a large mixing bowl. Repeat with the remaining half.
When the meat mixture has cooled somewhat, add it to the spinach. Also add the beaten egg, bread crumbs, and ½ cup parmesan. Stir to combine well.
Ladle some sauce into the baking pan. You want a thin layer. Using a small cereal spoon, carefully pack the meat mixture into the each individual shell. Place each stuffed shell in the prepared baking dish, on top of the sauce. When the shells are all assembled, top them with the remaining tomato sauce, then sprinkle the mozzarella over the shells. Sprinkle a little bit of parmesan on the mozzarella.
Place the dish in the oven and bake for about 12 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown.
Garnish with the remaining basil and serve hot.