Bring a taste of Italy to the table

By Ivana Susic

A pasta dinner can be more than plain noodles with generic jarred sauce. While many are intimidated by the fancy pasta seen on television or in restaurants, tasty dishes don’t have to be difficult to create.This simple recipe for jumbo stuffed shells doesn’t take much time and is sure to impress friends and family.

Begin by thoroughly washing and drying 1 cup of spinach. If stems are still attached, make sure to remove them; they will only take up space in the shells without adding any flavor.  Slice spinach into thin strips and set aside.

If no fresh spinach is available, frozen spinach can be substituted. Ensure that it is thawed and squeeze out excess water to avoid soggy pasta.

In a large mixing bowl combine 8 ounces of ricotta cheese, 1 egg, parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese, 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs and salt and pepper to taste. Once this mixture is uniform, stir in the spinach and then set aside.

Next, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil.  Add in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil; this helps to keep the shells from sticking together when removed from the water.

Follow the cooking instructions on the package (though shells usually cook in 8-10 minutes). Be sure to stir occasionally to keep the shells from sticking together.

While the shells are cooking, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Once the shells are cooked, carefully drain them and turn off the stove. Be careful as shells tear easier than most noodles; once broken, they cannot be stuffed.

Empty all but a few ounces of the pasta sauce into the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. Take one shell and spoon the mixture inside. Don’t overstuff the shell, but ensure there isn’t too much empty space either.

Place the shell on top of the sauce.  Repeat until all the shells have been filled.

If there is any mixture left over, go back and add it to each shell. Spread the remaining pasta sauce and 1/2 cup of mozzarella on top of the pasta.

Bake the shells for 30 minutes. Then take the shells out, cover the dish with foil and bake for another 10 minutes.

Once the pasta is finished baking, transfer to plates and garnish with parsley.

Serve immediately.