Monday, March 29, 2010

Baked Shells Casserole

I was looking for a tasty way to use up the rest of the Ricotta cheese from my homemade ravioli and the first place I looked was on Rachael Ray's show recipe archives. I rarely follow her recipes to the T--but I'm pretty sure that's how she would want it. Free Style Cooking. It's the best kind. You should try it.  In any case, I stumbled upon this baked shells casserole and new immediately that it was exactly what I was looking for. Not only did it use the perfect amount of Ricotta but it also allowed me to us the frozen spinach and medium pasta shells I bought recently for just this type of dinner. I've never used frozen spinach and frankly it grosses me out...but when it's mixed up in gloriousness, I'm totally in love with it. (Just don't put it on my plate alone. bleh.)  

I followed the recipe fairly closely with a few exceptions. 
1. I halved all the ingredients and baked it in an 8x8 glass baking dish. 
2. I didn't have fennel so I left it out.
3. I didn't have fresh parsley or nutmeg so I just estimated with the dry versions. (go very lightly on the nutmeg. barely a pinch will do!)
4. I eliminated the white wine--mostly because I don't like wine and don't use it for cooking (at least not yet.) A little extra water or chicken stock will do just fine.
5. I totally neglected to include the egg yolk. oops. It was fine.

Half of the recipe serves 4-6 adults. 
recipe adapted from 
5 tablespoons EVOO – Extra Virgin Olive Oil, divided
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped, divided
1 large or 2 small to medium onions, finely chopped, divided
1 small carrot, finely chopped or grated
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano or marjoram, half a palmful
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 1/3 palmful
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed by pressing under flat of your knife
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, 5 to 6 sprigs
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white or red wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 28-ounce cans Italian crushed tomatoes
1 pound medium or large shell pasta (not extra-large stuffing shells)
2 boxes frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and wrung dry in clean towel
Freshly grated nutmeg, about 1/4 teaspoon
2 cups fresh ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus some to pass at table
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 375. 
In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons EVOO, 3 turns of the pan, over medium heat. Add 4 cloves of chopped garlic, 3/4 of finely chopped onion and the carrot. Season with salt, pepper, oregano or marjoram, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds and thyme, and gently sauté 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add in parsley, stir, then add wine and reduce a minute. Add stock and tomatoes, bring sauce up to a bubble and reduce heat to simmer. Simmer sauce 45 minutes. 

In the meantime, bring a pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Salt water and cook pasta 5 minutes.
While pasta water comes to a boil, heat remaining 2 tablespoons EVOO in a small skillet over medium heat. Add remaining garlic and onion and sauté to soften, 5 minutes. Add spinach, pulling it apart and separating it as you add it to pan. Stir to combine well and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Turn off heat.

Drain undercooked pasta and return it to the hot pot. Add spinach mixture to pot along with ricotta and grated Parm. Stir to combine, adjust salt and pepper then add eggs and stir.

Pour a thin layer of marinara sauce into the bottom of a casserole dish. Fill dish with pasta then top with another thin layer of red sauce. Save remaining sauce to pass at table. Bake 30 minutes until bubbly.

Serve casserole directly from casserole dish, passing extra sauce and cheese at the table.


  1. Oh my....this look amazing. I'm not the best (ha! Who am i kidding, LOL, i'm no where NEAR the best!) cook but i'm going to have to try this. I'm glad i stumbled across you from The Mom Creative!

  2. Yeah like frozen spinach, a good casserole can mask all sorts of tastes we normally wouldn't prefer. And this casserole is a good one!