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Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells for Overplanners

There’s a common theme to the many, many New Year’s resolution think-pieces I’ve read over the past few weeks.

Instead of making resolutions that try to change who you fundamentally are, shift your focus to find ways to be at peace with who you are.

(I assume this doesn’t apply to people who are complete murderous psychopaths, but luckily I don’t fall into that category.)

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells
Photo: Casey Barber

This is a tough pill to swallow for us chronic perfectionist Type A overplanners who are really trying to be more chill and keep our blood pressure down.

For me, it’s a “grass is greener” situation where I look at those Type B people and think how their life must be so relaxed and easy-breezy.

Whereas here I am drowning under bullet journals and quarterly goals and planning for a vacation that’s 11 months away!

But would I really be happier if I hadn’t thought ahead and already booked that campervan at deep discount so we can take our bucket list Route 66 road trip this November?

spinach and ricotta stuffed shells

Or froze half a batch of stuffed shells so we won’t be reduced to eating pickles and crackers when we get back from vacation?

If I’m to be at peace with my overplanning, I have to note that this OCD-ness of my personality type serves me (and everyone around me) very well more often than not.

Yes, I’m frequently awake at 3:00 am with my mind racing. (Which, silver lining, does allow me to slowly work my way through books like Ron Chernow’s massive Grant biography). And I’m not saying I’m never spontaneous.

But because I’ve already worried and planned and itineraried about whatever, I get to sit back and enjoy the end results without last-minute agony.

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells
Photo: Casey Barber

Stuffed shells aren’t a throw-together meal—there’s no getting around it. It’s a process!

If you’re me, you make the marinara from scratch. (Which, again, you can batch out and store in the freezer—sense a theme?)

Then you need to boil the shells just until they’re al dente, so they don’t fall apart when you’re stuffing them.

The spinach and ricotta filling isn’t brain surgery, but because I absolutely must have a whole bunch of spinach offsetting the copious quantities of cheese, there’s the few added minutes of wilting, wringing, and chopping.

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells
Photo: Casey Barber

Then there’s the assembly portion, then the baking, and the steps required to freeze the blocks of casserole so you’ll have them down the line.

But all this Type A advance work is so worth it for the moment when I pull a batch of stuffed shells out of the freezer and know that I can be Type B and not worry about dinners for the next few nights.

Spinach and ricotta stuffed shells keep me at peace with who I am. They let me overplan and bustle around so I’ll have a future moment when don’t have to plan.

spinach and ricotta stuffed shells

Is it an oxymoron or just my own particular brand of genius?

Speaking of which, I really need to get a jump on what day we’re going to Disneyland once we’re done with Route 66. Hello, Haunted Mansion Holiday!

spinach and ricotta stuffed shells

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells

Yield: about 8 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Stuffed shells with spinach and ricotta can be baked and frozen in batches for busy nights - think of this recipe as an investment in your future happiness!

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 12-ounce package jumbo shells
  • 10 ounces fresh baby spinach
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 16-ounce block whole milk mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 6 cups marinara sauce

Instructions

  1. Bring a large (8-quart) pot of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons kosher salt.
  2. Stir in the shells and cook until just short of al dente, about 8-9 minutes.
  3. If using fresh baby spinach, carefully remove the shells with tongs and transfer to a strainer.
  4. Rinse the shells with cold water, shake to remove excess water, and transfer to a bowl until they're cool enough to handle.
  5. Add the spinach to the boiling water and cook for 1-2 minutes until wilted.
  6. Drain well in the strainer, rinsing with cold water until it's cool enough to handle.
  7. Wring that spinach as close to dry-as-a-bone as you can, squeezing with your hands and pressing against the strainer.
  8. Finely chop the spinach and add to a large bowl.
  9. Add the ricotta, parsley, basil, black pepper, remaining teaspoon salt, and half the mozzarella to the spinach, and stir to combine.
  10. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  11. If making shells to freeze in advance for future meals: line 3 8- or 9-inch square casserole dishes with parchment paper, making sure there is enough parchment to create an overhang on all sides. 
  12. If making shells for eating fresh or within the week, you can skip the parchment and use a large 9-by-13-inch casserole dish or any combination of casserole dishes that works for your meal situation.
  13. Ladle half the marinara sauce into the bottom of the pans, dividing as evenly as possible and spreading out into a healthy layer. Yep, do this straight onto the parchment if you're using it.
  14. Scoop 1 healthy tablespoon of filling into each shell and nestle into the pan, repeating until all the shells and pans are filled.
  15. Ladle the remaining marinara sauce over the shells.
  16. Top with the remaining mozzarella.
  17. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the casseroles are bubbling at the edges and the mozzarella is very melty with a few brown, caramelized spots.
  18. Let the stuffed shells rest for 5 minutes before serving, because that cheese will be molten, then eat or save portions for future meals. See Notes section below for instructions on freezing and reheating.

Notes

To freeze for future meals, let the casserole cool to room temperature, then place the entire dish in the freezer for 1 hour.

Once the stuffed shells have solidified into a frozen block, lift out of the pan using the parchment paper as a sling. Wrap well with foil and re-freeze until needed.

To reheat a frozen pan of stuffed shells, unwrap and place the parchment-lined block back into the casserole dish. 

Thaw overnight in the fridge or cook directly from frozen in a 375-degree oven.

Thawed stuffed shells will take about 30-45 minutes to reheat; frozen shells will take about 60-90 minutes.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 479Total Fat: 24gSaturated Fat: 13gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 79mgSodium: 1625mgCarbohydrates: 35gFiber: 5gSugar: 11gProtein: 30g

The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.

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