Easy Stuffed Shells with Ricotta, Spinach and Shiitakes
A nice, veggie-packed, easy stuffed shells recipe that will leave you plenty of time and energy for other things, like wishing for new German words. (Why? Is that not what you were thinking?)
Shiitake mushrooms give this vegetarian stuffed shells recipe a hearty, umami-forward meatiness that's oh so good.
Why we needed a good stuffed shells recipe this week
Friday afternoon I felt a surge of schadenfreude. Sunday the little one went to a birthday party and posed in several photos with her doppelgänger. Sometimes you just need to borrow a word from German to make a point without spending half the day describing it in English (or, God forbid, Spanish). For whatever reason, this weekend was full of those moments.
So much so, in fact, that I found myself wishing for a couple of new German words. In case anyone in charge of the German dictionary is reading, here’s what I need, please. (Side note: I don’t speak German, so no real rush.)
German Word Request 1
Podcasts are wonderful, and I listen to NPR ones all the time (#trypod and all that). It’s great to be able to listen to what you want when you want, and it’s great to be able to share what you’ve heard. But. One of my favorite things about NPR is the feeling of turning on the radio in the car and stumbling into a story that fits you so well you feel like somebody knows you and is looking out for you and maybe even sought you out to tell you this thing they knew you’d love. You can’t get that feeling from a podcast you queued up for yourself on your phone. We need a German word for appreciating the convenience of podcasts while also being a little sad that they don’t come with that feeling.
German Word Request 2
Well, number one was the short one. Saturday night we were finishing dinner, just the four of us and some really good spaghetti. We were talking about how you would go about building a highway from scratch, and then about Robert Moses, and then about books from college that we still have, and the little yellow USED stickers on them. The blue paperback Gatsby with the eyes in the sky made an appearance. For a hot minute I forgot whether those books had come from the same store where we got our senior theses bound. The tween was like, “Bound?” And then Cope had handed her my bound thesis, which, yes, is still on one of the bookshelves. I got busy talking about how this white girl at a fancy college, with the zero experience of any kind, could have felt comfortable writing 100 pages on black feminist consciousness. Was it 1998 vs 2017 or just my own change in thinking that made the topic I’d loved seem surprising to me now? And then before I knew it, the tween, who I swear was in my belly five minutes ago, was reading this thing and really understanding the shit out of it. And she was impressed with me, and I was way more impressed with her. She said, “Oh my God, this is so you. I can hear Umami Girl in here.” Then, to top it off, she found a printed email from my dad in there from 2001, describing his first week of retirement, which as she said later in a way that is so her, “didn’t make me feel not emotional.” Could we please have a German word for this stage of life and the fact that it’s here already and that that’s impossible? Thank you.
Right, so, a stuffed shells recipe
Right, so, stuffed shells. This recipe with plenty of cheese but also lots of good-for-ya spinach and shiitakes is nice and easy to make, which will give you plenty of time to feed the family while also submitting your new German word requests. Or doing whatever you would rather do with your time. I mean, I presume most people would go with the word requests, but whatever.
- About 2/3 of a 12-ounce box jumbo shells (see note 1)
- 1 small yellow onion, finely diced
- 8 garlic cloves, minced
- 10 ounces sliced shiitake mushrooms
- 6 ounces baby spinach
- 1 pound fresh ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup grated pecorino romano, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 egg
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
- 3 cups good tomato sauce
- 1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley to garnish, optional
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Boil pasta shells in well salted water according to package instructions. Drain and toss with a teaspoon of the olive oil to prevent sticking.
- Meanwhile, warm the tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat in a 12-inch nonstick skillet. Add the onion, garlic and shiitakes along with a big pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5-10 minutes. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Place spinach mixture into a large bowl and stir in ricotta, half the pecorino, the salt and a few good grinds of pepper. Crack the egg into the bowl, beat well with a fork and then stir into mixture.
- In a standard 9x13-inch baking dish, spread 1/2 cup or so of the tomato sauce. Fill each pasta shell with a couple of tablespoons of the vegetable-cheese mixture and place in a single, snug layer into the baking dish, continuing until all shells and filling are used. Pour remaining tomato sauce over shells and top with mozzarella and remaining pecorino. Bake for about half an hour, until hot and bubbly. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
- I used Ronzoni jumbo shells because that's what our local grocery store had available. There are 42 per 12-ounce box, and 35 fit snugly into my 9x13-inch pan. It looks like Barilla jumbo shells are bigger, with 35 per 12-ounce box. Whatever brand you use, make enough shells to fit snugly into the baking pan, and use up all the filling -- the shells are pretty flexible.
- I've been enjoying the blog Garlic & Zest recently, where my friend Lisa posted a recipe for Mushroom and Kale Stuffed Shells. Pretty sure that's where I got the idea to add mushrooms to this dish, not that I really ever leave mushrooms out of anything. Check out her site. You'll like it.
- So here's something from 2018: we discovered that if you're not feeling vegetarian at the moment, a pound of hot Italian sausage makes a tasty substitution for shiitakes. As your first step, cook the sausage on medium-high in the skillet until browned and cooked through, then place it in a big mixing bowl. Pour off all but two tablespoons of the fat from the pan and sauté the onion and garlic in that instead of olive oil, then proceed with the recipe as written, omitting the shiitakes. Juuuuust sayin.