Home-style Italian American dishes such as lasagna and stuffed shells endure for good reason: They are filling family favorites. A little tinkering and the addition of vegetables make these dishes more healthful without ruining the qualities that make them so popular.
In this recipe, a big pan of carrots, zucchini and onions serves a dual purpose: Half of the mixture becomes the base of the pasta sauce, and half is added to the filling for the stuffed shells.
Pasta shells for stuffing vary in size. Here, jumbo shells are called for. Figure on four per person, and be careful not to overcook them, or they will open too wide and won't be able to hold the filling. If you use shells of a different size, stick with the total weight (5 ounces) of dried pasta.
Make Ahead: The filling can be made and refrigerated up to 12 hours in advance. The filled shells can be baked a day in advance, cooled, refrigerated and then reheated. Make sure the shells are well covered with sauce if you're planning to cook ahead and reheat later. Freezing the filled shells is not recommended.
- About 5 ounces uncooked jumbo pasta shells, such as DaVinci brand
- 1 tablespoon mild olive oil
- 8 ounces carrots, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
- 12 ounces zucchini, cut into roughly 1/4-inch pieces
- 8 ounces yellow onion, finely diced
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup red wine
- 3 cups Pomi strained tomatoes (may substitute your favorite brand of no-salt-added pureed tomatoes and their juices)
- 2 teaspoons sugar, or more to taste
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1 1/4 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Freshly grated nutmeg
Bring a pot of water to a boil over high heat. Cook the pasta shells according to the package directions, being careful not to overcook. Drain.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the carrots, zucchini and onion. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to medium; cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and cooked through. Transfer half of the mixture to a large bowl to cool.
Stir the wine into the skillet with the remaining vegetables (over medium heat). Cook for a minute, then add the strained tomatoes and sugar to form a sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste, adjusting the heat to make sure the sauce is barely bubbling. Cook for 15 minutes, then stir in half of the basil. Taste; add sugar, salt and pepper as needed.
Add the ricotta, beaten egg, Parmigiano-Reggiano and the remaining basil to the bowl. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste; mix to form a well-incorporated filling.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Coat the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with some of the sauce. Spoon the filling into the cooked shells, arranging the filled shells on top of the sauce as you work. Spoon the remaining sauce over the shells. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and transfer to the preheated oven. Bake for 30 minutes. To check for doneness, carefully lift a corner of the foil; the inside should be steamy. Transfer to a heatproof surface and let it rest, still covered, for 25 minutes before dividing shells and sauce among individual plates.
From Stephanie Witt Sedgwick.
Tested by Stephanie Witt Sedgwick.
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