So if she sells shells on the seashore,
I’m sure she sells seashore shells.
One of hubby’s and my favorite meatless meals — even before we began making a focus of one meatless meal a week — is Spinach Cheesy Stuffed Shells. But as yummy as that is, we also enjoy eating Meat-Stuffed Shells Florentine. As with the Spinach Cheesy Stuffed Shells, I keep it simple by using a commercially-prepared pasta sauce.
I usually make my own pasta sauce, but I do always like to keep a tin or two of Hunt’s Pasta Sauce in my pantry for a quick, easy meal. For example, I’ve found that it’s just the right amount of sauce for a frozen (or refrigerated) bag of ravioli. It’s also just the right amount of sauce for when I make stuffed shells — I figure I’m already futzing with stuffing the pasta shells, so unless I’m feeling especially like puttering in the kitchen, I usually make it easy on myself and doctor up a can of Hunt’s Pasta Sauce.
My Meat-Stuffed Pasta Shells Florentine are inspired by a recipe for Stuffed Jumbo Shells on the back of a Barilla Jumbo Shells pasta box. Hubby and I really like the flavor of Barilla pasta, and so whenever I can, it’s the kind I purchase.
Have you ever wondered why dishes that have spinach in them are referred to as being “Florentine”? Well, according to Wikipedia:
In 1533, Catherine de’ Medici became queen of France; she so fancied spinach that she insisted it be served at every meal. To this day, dishes made with spinach are known as “Florentine,” reflecting Catherine’s birth in Florence.
Why, it’s almost enough to make you want to break into a Florentiner March! 😉 (Go on, give this composition by Julius Arnost Wilhelm Fučík a listen while you read the rest of this post — you know you want to! And a little under 6 minutes of military marching band music will do your heart good, and you know it!)
The meat-spinach combination is seasoned with a bit of nutmeg. If you’ve ever watched Rachael Ray, you’ve seen her add a bit of nutmeg to pasta dishes sometimes and say “It adds just that hint of flavor that makes people go ‘Hmmm!'” And she’s right — it adds just a hint of a lovely background taste.
You can make this with lean (93/7 or greater) ground beef or ground turkey; it’s also yummy with lean, bulk ground turkey or pork sausage. I use a 10-ounce package of frozen spinach for convenience (I always try to have at least one package of frozen spinach in my freezer), but you could use about 10-12 ounces of fresh spinach, instead.
Once you stuff the shells, you spoon in the remaining sauce, sprinkle on some cheese, cover with foil (do yourself a favor and light spray with cooking spray or oil the side of the foil that will be facing the food) and bake.
Bake for about 45 minutes, then let rest 10 to 15 minutes, et voila — a yummy supper!
This smells — and tastes — so yummy! It’s fancy enough for company, comforting enough for a family meal, and perfect for a pot luck because it’s easy to serve a single shell for just a taste.
Meat-Stuffed Shells Florentine (Serves 5)
- 20 jumbo shells, cooked al dente (about 6 ounces)
- 1 package (10 ounces) frozen spinach, thawed and drained/squeezed free from liquid
- 1 pound extra lean (93/7 or greater) ground beef or ground turkey OR 1 pound bulk lean ground turkey sausage or reduced-fat pork sausage
- 1 small or 1/2 large onion, diced
- Garlic (fresh or dried), to taste (we like a couple – three cloves)
- Coarse ground black pepper to taste
- Hint of nutmeg (about 1/8 teaspoon — I eyeball it and just barely sprinkle some in)
- 1 egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
- 1/4 cup or so (I eyeball it) grated Parmesan, Three-Cheese Blend, Romano, or other desired Italian-style cheese
- Approximately 1 cup (4 ounces) grated, shredded, or torn mozzarella cheese
- Additional seasonings for sauce to taste: Worcestershire sauce, red pepper flakes, basil, Italian seasoning, oregano, parsley, and a splash of red wine, if desired
- Cook jumbo pasta shells in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve approximately 1/3 cup of the pasta water (this will be added to the meat-spinach mixture.) Drain pasta and rinse with cool water so that you will be able to handle them. (If desired, also gently dry them with a paper towel before filling).
- In a lightly oiled non-stick large skillet, brown ground meat over medium to medium-high heat. Drain away oil (if you’re using extra-lean ground meat or sausage, there should be virtually no oil to drain). Add in onion, garlic, spinach, and reserved pasta water; cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Add in coarse ground black pepper and nutmeg. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature.
- To cooled meat/spinach mixture, stir in egg and 1/4 cup or so (I eyeball it) grated Parmesan or other cheese of choice.
- Season pasta sauce as desired with additional seasonings.
- Lightly oil or spray with cooking spray a 13″x9″ pan. Spread a small amount of pasta sauce (1/2 to 1 cup) along the bottom of the pan.
- Gently fill each pasta shell with the meat/spinach mixture. Place in prepared 13″x9″ pan. Add in remaining pasta sauce. Sprinkle with grated mozzarella cheese.
- Cover pan with foil and place in oven. (Tip: Lightly spray with cooking spray or oil the side of the foil that will be facing the food.) Bake at 350F (no need to preheat!) for 45 minutes or so, until heated through and bubbly.
- Let rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
- Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.