Baked Shells Casserole
With all the flavors of baked stuffed shells without all the hassle, this luscious pasta bake is sure to become a family favorite!
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), 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 seed, crushed by pressing under the flat of your knife
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (5-6 sprigs)
- 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup dry white wine or red wine or an additional 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 2 cans Italian crushed tomatoes (28 ounces each)
- 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 the table
- 2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
- In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons EVOO, three turns of the pan, over medium heat. Add 4 cloves of chopped garlic, three-quarters of the finely chopped onion and the carrot. Season with salt, pepper, oregano or marjoram, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds and the thyme and gently sauté for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add in the parsley, stir, then add the wine and reduce for a minute. Add the stock and tomatoes, then bring the sauce up to a bubble and reduce the heat to simmer. Simmer the sauce for 45 minutes.
- After the sauce has been simmering for 30 minutes, pre-heat the oven to 375˚F.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Salt the water and cook the pasta for 5 minutes.
- While the pasta water comes to a boil, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons EVOO in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the remaining garlic and onion and sauté to soften, 5 minutes. Add the 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 the heat.
- Drain the undercooked pasta and return it to the hot pot. Add the spinach mixture to the pot along with the ricotta and grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Stir to combine and adjust the salt and pepper. Add the eggs and stir.
- Pour a thin layer of marinara sauce into the bottom of a casserole dish. Fill the dish with the pasta mixture, then top with another thin layer of red sauce. Save the remaining sauce to pass at the table. Bake for 30 minutes, until bubbly.
- Serve the casserole directly from the casserole dish, passing the extra sauce and cheese at the table.
Cooking with alcohol enhances the flavors of certain dishes. Some of the alcohol burns off in the process of cooking. If you are concerned about using alcohol when you cook, you may use the appropriate substitute listed in the ingredients.