It should be obvious by now that I love to stuff things (Pepperoni Stuffed Chicken, Cranberry Walnut Stuffed Pork Loin, Stuffed Poblano Peppers). Well, here I go again, stuffing some more filling into what would otherwise be a very boring bit of food. Instead of doing the regular old cheese stuffed jumbo shell pasta, I decided to give it a little kick with some pesto. I mixed basil pesto into the cheese filling which added TONS of bright flavor. I had some fresh spinach lying around so I decided to roughly chop some and throw it into the mix as well. You can leave out the spinach or add more if you’d like; it is not a major player here, I just like to add more veggies whenever I can. Also, I have been making my own marinara lately but I had a jar of store bought sitting up in my cupboard using up space so I decided to use that this time instead.
I set a serving size at 3 shells per person because I made a big green salad and garlic bread to go along as sides (recipes later this week). If you are eating the shells alone you may want four… or five if you are a big muscular man with a monsterous appetite. I was able to fill 22 shells with the amount of pesto cheese mix I made, which left me with more than a few left over shells. Even though you probably won’t end up using all of your cooked shells, it is a good idea to boil all of them in case some rip or tear in the process. Just consider them “back up” shells.
Pesto Stuffed Shells
- 12 oz. jumbo shell pasta $1.24
- 15 oz. part skim ricotta $1.83
- 4 oz. (1 cup) shredded mozzarella $0.98
- ½ cup basil pesto $1.96
- 1 large egg $0.15
- 2 cups fresh spinach (optional) $0.33
- 1 Tbsp cooking oil $0.04
- 3 cups (1 jar) pasta sauce $1.98
- In a bowl, mix together the ricotta, mozzarella, pesto and the egg (the egg keeps the filling from getting too runny when cooked). Roughly chop the spinach and stir it into the cheese mixture. Refrigerate the filling until you are ready to use it.
- Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box (boil for 12 min.). I added 1 Tbsp of cooking oil to the boiling water to keep the shells from sticking to each and the pot. You will still need to gently stir a few times during cooking. Be careful not to over cook the pasta or else it will rip easily and be too mushy after cooking with the filling and sauce. Drain the pasta and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process. Let the pasta drain.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. The shells roll up tight (see photo below) when they are cooked so use the fingers on one hand to hold them open as you spoon about 3 Tbsp of pesto cheese mix into the center of each. There should be enough pesto cheese mix to fill the shell so that it stays open just slightly (the edges should be about ½ inch apart). Fill as many shells as you can with the cheese mix.
- Spread one cup of pasta sauce in the bottom of a glass baking dish. I used a 9.5×14 inch dish because that was all that I had available at the time but it was too big for 22 shells. You want to pack them in tightly in a single layer. If you space them too far apart, they will dry out during the cooking process. Place all of the shells in the baking dish as close together as possible and pour the remaining 2 cups of sauce over top. Bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees or until the sauce is bubbling up around the edges.
Stuffed shells prior to baking
Step By Step Photos
I would make fresh pesto if I had a big basil plant but I don’t so I buy this pesto at the store. The price is very reasonable in my area and it only took about half a jar for this recipe.
I added this roughly chopped spinach because I like to hide vegetables everywhere I can!
Here is the finished pesto cheese filling (ricotta, mozzarella, pesto, spinach and an egg).
After cooking the jumbo shell pasta, they will coil up pretty tightly so you will need to use one hand to hold each one open as you fill it with a spoonful of pesto cheese mix with the other. It’s easier than it sounds but a little messy.
Here are some stuffed shells before cooking. If you over fill one (like the one in front) you can scoop a little out to fill another… or you can just leave it and have fewer but fatter shells.
Pack the shells into a baking dish with sauce underneath and on top. Bake for 30 minutes.
Serve with garlic bread, a big salad and maybe a glass of wine!
NOTE: Leftover pesto should not be wasted… it’s too precious. Pesto freezes really well so pour it into a freezer bag, label it and save it for a rainy day (maybe make some Pesto Chicken with it later!).
This recipe is pretty cheese and I DID tell myself that I was going to watch my saturated fat intake so here are a couple of alterations that you can do to make this dish a little healthier. First, use part-skim ricotta, not whole. Yes, whole tastes better but once the pesto is in there, you won’t notice. Use 2% mozzarella for the same reason. Lastly, you can add double the spinach which will add texture, fiber, nutrients and bulk up the cheese mix allowing you to fill more shells. As with any dish that is rich or cheesy, watching your portion size goes a LONG way so pack your portions out ahead of time!