I hate when I waste some of a specialized product just because the recipe I bought it for does not use the whole amount. Such was almost the case with the ricotta from this pasta dish. Luckily I happened to be looking through one of my pizza cookbooks while holding onto this recipe and found a spinach and ricotta pizza recipe. Perfect!
Let’s start with the pasta. It’s made from large pasta shells stuffed with a spinach-ricotta filling and baked in tomato sauce. It comes from the book Pasta Harvest by Janet Fletcher. The filling is so delicious! It has equal parts mozzarella and ricotta, making it rich and creamy, with garlic and fresh basil for flavor. It is one of the best spinach-ricotta fillings I have ever had.
The original recipe calls for this homemade tomato sauce using fresh tomatoes. I have made it with the homemade sauce and it is fabulous! BUT, it is really a recipe that is best made at the peak of tomato season with garden or farmer’s market tomatoes. In the off-season, you can use store-bought tomato sauce with good results. This time I used a traditional Marinara sauce from Trader Joe’s.
The pizza came from my new favorite pizza cookbook by Diane Morgan and Tony Gemignani, simply called Pizza. It had many of the same ingredients as the pasta: olive oil, tomato sauce, spinach, garlic, and Parmesan, mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. It’s a classic combination!
Baked Conchiglione with Spinach-Ricotta Filling
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- ½ pound baby spinach leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ pound whole-milk ricotta cheese
- ½ pound mozzarella cheese, whole- or skim-milk, coarsely grated
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh basil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 20 jumbo pasta shells (it’s a good idea to cook a few extra in case of breakage)
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1½ cups Marinara sauce, store-bought or homemade
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375°F. Wash spinach in cold water. Place the spinach in a 10-inch skillet with the rinse-water still clinging to the leaves. Cover and cook over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until the leaves are just wilted. Transfer the spinach to a colander and rinse under cold running water to cool. Drain well and squeeze dry. Chop finely.
Cook pasta shells in a large pot of boiling salted water. Remove and drain when they are about a minute shy of being done. They will continue to cook in the oven. Transfer pasta to a bowl and toss with olive oil to prevent them from sticking together.
Meanwhile, combine the spinach, garlic, ricotta, mozzarella, egg, basil, salt and pepper in a bowl, mixing well.
Put half the tomato sauce on the bottom of a shallow baking dish just large enough to hold the shells in a single layer. Fill each pasta shell with a heaping tablespoon of the filling and arrange them in the baking dish. You should have just enough stuffing to fill 20 shells (really!). Spoon the remaining sauce over and around the shells and top with the Parmesan cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until bubbling hot, 30 – 40 minutes. COOK’S NOTE: When I cooked mine it definitely needed the full 40 minutes. In fact, I thought the filling wasn’t quite hot enough so I might do 50 minutes next time.