This dish is so much fun, and kid approved in our home. These jumbo pasta shells are stuffed with tasty Italian sausage and three of our favorite Italian cheeses… ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella.
Also inside is tons of spinach that was seared with garlic. This dish also calls for all hands on deck in the kitchen, because all those Conchiglie (Con-chee-glee) pasta shells need to be carefully filled with luscious stuffing. Placed in a bed of rustic marinara sauce and baked, your family will love these awesome humongous shells. This is the ultimate comfort food, our family’s idea of heaven from a kitchen. And as left-overs, the shells are so large that each one becomes a sort of pasta package of bliss, a cheese lovers dream, like pizza in a shell. Enjoy!
1 package jumbo pasta shells, usually 12 ounces (Conchiglie)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pound Italian sausage (pork, chicken or turkey)
24 to 32 ounces marinara sauce, depending on the number of shells used
1 cup onion, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, crushed
12 ounces baby spinach
2 cups (16 oz) ricotta cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup basil leaves
1 cup Italian parsley
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground fennel
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon oregano
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional but wonderful)
2 teaspoons porcini powder (optional but wonderful)
Simmer jumbo pasta shells according to package instructions, and then allow the pasta shells to cool in a bowl of ice water. Remove and set aside.
For the pasta shell filling, heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat with 3 tablespoons of oil. When oil is hot, add in chopped onions and garlic. Cook until onions are softened and garlic is fragrant.
Spread the sausage out and sprinkle on the salt. Mix well, add to the onions and saute until meat is done.
Separately sear the spinach with garlic and add to the sausage mix.
In a medium mixing bowl, add in ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, oregano, basil, parsley, fennel, black pepper, paprika, lemon zest, eggs, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix together and then stir in cooled sausage mixture.
Spread two-thirds of the marinara sauce on the bottom of one or two baking pans. Using a big spoon, fill pasta shells with sausage ricotta mixture. Set filled shells in baking pan on top of the marinara sauce. Top pasta shells with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.
Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees. Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes or until cheese begins to brown.
Garnish with parmesan cheese, parsley or basil leaves, and remaining marinara sauce.