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Spinach and Ricotta Pasta Shells – a delicious and warming baked pasta dish.
When entertaining, my preference is for food which is simple to prepare but also has lots of flavour.
A very important part of successful entertaining is a relaxed host. The key to being a relaxed host is simple food which can largely be prepared in advance. (Who wants to have friends over and then spend half the night in the kitchen?!)
I feel that dinner parties, these days, are more about sharing a casual meal with friends and family. I think you will find that people are just grateful to be cooked for (I know I am). Therefore, there really is no need to stress. The meal doesn’t need to be complicated. If that means you prepare just a main course with a salad, that’s fine. A relaxed host encourages a convivial evening, and after all, good friends and good conversation are why you host a dinner party.
I find that a pasta dish which can be prepared in advance is ideal. This recipe for Spinach and Ricotta Pasta Shells was given to me many years ago by my beautiful godmother, Lesley. (It’s also her birthday today!!) Most of my friends would have been served this on more than one occasion (clearly I’m not constrained by never serving the same dish twice) as it fits the required criteria of simple, tasty and prepare ahead.
Although there are a few stages, none of them are difficult. My preference is to prepare the shells a day in advance, if possible; I think the flavours develop better this way. It also means less last minute pressure and provides the opportunity to get rid of the dirty dishes, leaving you with a clean kitchen bench and a dish which just requires heating.
The first step is to make a basic tomato sauce. While the sauce simmers, the shells are cooked to very al dente, i.e., they are slightly under-cooked, as they will cook further when they are heated for serving.
The filling is then prepared by cooking the spinach together in a little butter, cooled, and then mixed with the remaining ingredients. The cooked shells are filled and placed in a serving dish with the tomato sauce, cream and some grated parmesan.
That’s it; so easy and so delicious. Just serve the shells with a simple green salad and some garlic bread. Oh, a nice glass of wine goes well too! My Eggplant Involtini and Pumpkin and Ricotta Shells are also great make-ahead dishes that you will need to try.
Let me know what you think!
Spinach and Ricotta Pasta Shells
A dinner party staple, or delicious mid-week meal!
- 3 tbsp olive oil extra virgin
- 1 brown onion finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 800 gm diced tomatoes (2 x 400gm tins)
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- salt and pepper to taste
- chilli flakes (optional)
- 1 tbsp butter
- 250 gm frozen spinach (thawed)
- 500 gm ricotta (full fat)
- 1 1/4 cup parmesan cheese (freshly grated. Divided – see recipe)
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3/4 cup pouring cream (Divided – see recipe)
- 26 large pasta shells
In a medium sized frying pan heat oil over medium heat. Add the onion, lower the heat and cook gently, about 7 minutes. Stir the onion a few times, it should soften but not colour.
Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes.
Add the tomatoes – I always rinse the can out with a little water and add that also.
Add the sugar, dried herbs and some salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Bring to a simmer and cook gently, stirring occasionally for 20-30 minutes. Check the seasoning and set the sauce aside.
Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil.
Add the pasta shells and stir well. I cook them for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, but times differ between brands. When I use gluten free shells they take about 5 minutes. Don’t be guided by the cooking time on the packet; the shells must be slightly under cooked as they will finish cooking when heated in the oven.
Drain the shells well and spread them out, concave side down, on a clean tea towel to prevent them cooking further and ensure all water drains off.
Whilst de-frosting, the spinach will have released some water. Gently press with your finger tips and, holding the spinach in place, tip off the excess liquid that has accumulated in the bowl.
Over low heat, melt the butter in a small frying pan. Gently fry the spinach. Continue gently cooking for about 5 minutes to remove a little more moisture. The mixture should still have some moisture; it should not become completely dry. Allow to cool.
Place the spinach mixture in a large bowl with the ricotta, ¾ cup of parmesan, grated nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Combine the ingredients well.
Assembling the Shells
Preheat oven to 180 Degrees C (350 F).
Put about 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce and 1/4 cup of cream in a large ovenproof dish. With the back of a spoon, blend them together.
Using a dessert spoon, fill the pasta shells with the spinach and ricotta mixture. Place them in the ovenproof dish.
Dollop the sauce on and around the shells and smooth a little with the back of a spoon.
Drizzle the cream on top and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup of parmesan.
To prevent the shells from burning, cover with foil for the first 30 minutes that they’re in the oven. Remove the foil and bake uncovered for the final 10 minutes. With the tip of a sharp knife, check that the pasta is completely cooked.
I generally buy a tub of ricotta from the supermarket and gently turn it onto paper towel to absorb excess moisture.
If you buy a wedge of ricotta from the deli section at the supermarket it has a drier consistency and you will not need to drain it.
The dish is gluten free if you use gluten free pasta shells.
3 49 1 463
3 49 1 463