Cheesy Spinach Stuffed Shells with Vodka Sauce
Stuffed shells remind me of being a kid. It’s one of those dishes that you loved for your mom to make—stuffed shells night was always the best —but that you never really make for yourself. Stuffed shells are hearty and decadent, an easy meal to make when you need to feed your family. It’s not something you would think to do for just two people.
So when we invited our families over to our house for Father’s Day, I knew what I was making—stuffed shells, of course! They came together easily and were just as tasty as I always remembered them being.
We went for a simple filling of cheese (ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan) and spinach + roasted garlic. For the sauce, I went for my crazy delicious Loaded Veggie Marinara Sauce. As the name implies, this sauce is packed with veggies and is seriously loaded with flavor; but if you don’t want to go through the hassle of making your own sauce (I swear it’s worth it), feel free to use a jarred variety.
We also served lasagna with Loaded Veggie Marinara Sauce for our Father’s Day meal, so to mix things up a bit, we decided to transform the sauce for the shells into a vodka sauce. Neither of us had made vodka sauce before, but turns out it’s incredibly easy! You basically need 8 parts sauce to 2 parts vodka to 1 part cream and you’re good to go. If you’ve never had vodka sauce before, I think you’ll be amazed how much a bit of vodka + cream transforms the taste.
4 c. Veggie Loaded Marinara Sauce or jarred sauce
1 c. vodka
1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
1 box of jumbo pasta shells, cooked according to package directions (you won’t use them all, but it’s nice to have extras in case some break)
3-4 garlic cloves
10 oz. fresh spinach
2 T. olive oil
2 c. part-skim ricotta
1 c. shredded mozzarella
1/2 c. shredded Parmesan
1 T. fresh basil, chopped
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. cayenne
1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook the shells according to package directions. Drain, drizzle with olive oil so they don’t stick together and let sit until they’re cool enough to handle.
2) Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook until it starts to brown, about two minutes. Add the spinach a handful at a time, tearing it apart as you go. Cook until the spinach leaves are wilted but still retain a vibrant green color. Remove from heat.
3) Add the ricotta, Parmesan, mozzarella, nutmeg, cayenne and egg to a bowl.
4) Scoop the spinach/garlic mixture onto a cutting board and chop the spinach so it’s in little pieces. Add the spinach and garlic mixture to the bowl with the cheeses and stir well to combine.
5) Follow the directions for my Veggie Loaded Marinara Sauce (note that it needs to simmer in a slow cooker for 6-8 hours) or use a jar sauce. Spread a bit of the sauce onto the bottom of a 9 in. x 13 in. baking dish. Use a spoon to scoop the spinach/cheese mixture into the shells and place the shells onto the baking dish.
6) Pour the marinara sauce into a large pot and make note of the liquid level. Pour in the vodka and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer until reduced back down to four cups (otherwise, until the liquid level is back to where you started when only the marinara sauce was in the pot).
7) Add the cream to the sauce and simmer for another two minutes.
8) Pour the sauce over the shells. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the tops of the shells are starting to brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes and dig in!
Note: if you’re looking for some bread to sop up that delicious sauce, try my easy Fennel & Rosemary Bread with Sauteed Onions & Garlic.