Meal prep at its finest with jumbo pasta shells nestled in zesty tomato sauce and stuffed with a blend of ricotta, fontina, mascarpone and parmesan plus sautéed zucchini, mushrooms and spinach. Perfect for busy weeknights and entertaining!
Course Dinner, Main Course
Keyword make ahead, meal prep, pasta dish, stuffed shells
Prep Time 40minutes
Cook Time 1hour
Servings 8servings (35-40 shells)
Author Kim Peterson
2tablespoonsolive oil, divided
½poundspicy Italian sausage, removed from casing
½poundmild Italian sausage, removed from casing
1medium yellow onion, chopped
¾cupdry vermouth or white wine
2 28-ouncecans crushed tomatoes
1teaspooneach dried oregano, parsley and basil
1pinchcrushed red pepper flakes (optional)
kosher salt and pepper
Filling & Assembly
2small zucchini, chopped into ½-inch dice
Kosher salt and pepper
16ounceswhole milk ricotta cheese
10ouncesfontina cheese, shredded
⅓cupparmesan cheese, freshly grated
1cupbasil pesto, homemade* or store bought, divided
12ouncesjumbo pasta shells, cooked al dente according to package instructions
4ouncesmozzarella, sliced or torn
Fresh basil for garnish
2cupsloosely packed fresh basil leaves
2large cloves garlic, peeled
½cupparmesan cheese, freshly grated
¼cuppine nuts (optional)
½cupextra-virgin olive oil
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned, 5-7 minutes. Break up larger pieces with a wooden spoon as it cooks.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to paper towel-lined plate to drain.
Heat remaining tablespoon olive oil in the pot. Add onion and cook until softened and beginning to caramelize, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
Stir in garlic and cook 1-2 minutes.
Pour in vermouth or wine to deglaze the bottom of the pot, scraping up any brownings with a wooden spoon, about 3 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium and add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, dried herbs and crushed red pepper flakes. Return the sausage to the pot. Season with salt and pepper.
Simmer for 15 minutes so flavors blend and sauce thickens slightly. (Makes about 8 cups. Can be made a day before assembling shells. Let cool then cover and refrigerate.)
Filling & Assembly
Heat olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat.
Add the zucchini and mushrooms to the pan. Cook about 5 minutes or until vegetables begin to soften.
Stir in spinach by the handful and let wilt before adding more. Once all the spinach is wilted and incorporated, transfer the vegetable mixture to a medium bowl. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, fontina, mascarpone, parmesan, ½ cup pesto, and egg with a handheld mixer or by hand until well combined. Fold in cooled vegetables. (Filling can be made 1 day ahead of assembling. Cover and refrigerate.)
Transfer the mixture to a gallon size zip-lock bag. Snip about a ¾-inch off one corner of the bag.
To assemble, lightly grease a 9x13 inch baking dish. Spread 4-5 cups of the sauce in the bottom of the baking dish.
Pipe about 2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture into each pasta shell** and place in the baking dish.
Spoon another cup or so of the sauce on top of the shells. Arrange the mozzarella on top. Drizzle about ¼ cup pesto over the shells. (Can be assembled 1 day before baking. Cover and refrigerate. Let sit at room temperature 1 hour before baking.) See Notes below on how to freeze stuffed shells.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake for 25-30 minutes. The sauce should be bubbling and cheese melted. Remove from oven and allow to cool 5-10 minutes before serving.
Serve with any remaining pesto on the side and rewarmed extra sauce. Grate on more parm and garnish with fresh basil. Enjoy!
Add basil, garlic, parmesan, and pine nuts to bowl of a food processor. Pulse until well combined.
With the machine running, slowly pour in the oil. Process until desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Makes about 1 cup. Can be made 1 day ahead of assembling the shells. Transfer pesto to an airtight container and refrigerate.)
**You'll need to partially boil the shells before filling them. The package should include a pre-bake cooking time. You can do this step a day before assembling as well. After draining, rinse the shells with cold water and drain again. When they're completely cool, place them in an airtight container, gently toss them with some olive oil and refrigerate.To Freeze Stuffed Shells - Cover tightly with plastic wrap, then tinfoil. Clearly label and keep in freezer for up to 3 months. Let thaw before baking.Recipe adapted from several sources.
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