Lasagna gets lots of love and attention, and rightly so! But before you make lasagna for the thousandth time, perhaps I can lure you out of your "shell" with this new recipe?! These stuffed shells embrace everything I love about lasagna in a cute little sea shell shaped package. They are comforting, hearty, creamy and packed with some of my favorite ingredients. I have a soft spot for old school recipes but prefer to update them with added freshness and flavor. That's exactly what I've done here by adding extra greenery and spice to a classic stuffed shell situation!
I call my youngest son Calder the "sand crab" because he is our beach baby and obsessed with collecting shells. He can also get "crabby" when he is tired or hungry (I think he gets that from his mom). I developed this recipe with him in mind since pasta is also his favorite food group! While these shells are slightly spicy from the arrabiatta sauce, you could swap in marinara sauce if you are serving kids or grownups sensitive to heat. I use a mix of sweet and hot Italian chicken sausage here, but you could absolutely sub regular pork sausage or even turkey sausage, using mild or hot per your preference.
This recipe is a great option for the freezer- just assemble the entire dish and wrap tightly with plastic before baking. Pop in the freezer for up to 3 months, then thaw completely and bake as written to enjoy at a later date. You should get between 20-24 shells from this recipe, and I portion about 4 per person. But hungry teenage boys may want more- it's very hard to not "shell"fishly hog the whole dish! Mangia!
prep time: 30 min. cook time: 30 min. serves: 4-6
ground black pepper
3/4 box jumbo shell pasta, ~12 oz
extra virgin olive oil
1 lb sweet or hot Italian chicken sausage (you can use a combo of sweet and hot and also use pork or turkey sausage)
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp fennel seed
pinch red pepper flakes to taste
1-5 oz box baby spinach
1 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1-15 oz tub whole milk ricotta cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1-14 oz can artichoke hearts, drained, patted dry and coarsely chopped
3 cups jarred or homemade arrabiatta sauce (or marinara)
3/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese
Preheat the oven to 375° with a rack set in the middle. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the sausage and begin to brown all over, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Once no pink remains, add the garlic, fennel and red pepper flakes and sauté 2 min more, or until fragrant. Add the spinach and 1/2 tsp kosher salt and cook to wilt. Transfer the mixture to a bowl to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the shells and cook until just shy of dente- about a minute less than package cooking directions. Strain and set aside to cool slightly.
Add the ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, chopped artichokes, parsley, eggs, 1 tsp kosher salt and 1/2 tsp black pepper to the bowl with the sausage and spinach mixture. Fold the ingredients together until we'll combined.
Coat the bottom of a 9x13” baking dish with 1 cup of the arrabiata sauce. Stuff a heaped tablespoon of the sausage mixture into each shell and arrange open side up in the baking dish. You may have some leftover shells, but I always like to cook extra in case some tear! Once all the shells are stuffed and lined up snugly, pour over the remaining sauce to evenly coat. Sprinkle evenly with the mozzarella and remaining 1/2 cup parmesan and place in the oven on a middle rack to bake, uncovered, 25-30 min, until lightly browned on top and heated through. Serve hot with extra parmesan cheese on the side for serving!