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Years ago when I was looking for an alternative to lasagne, I went rumaging through the pasta isle at my local grocery store. I was familiar with the normal spaghetti, penne, lasagna and macaroni product; but when I took a step back and really concentrated on the variety of pasta available I was taken aback. The variety was HUGE. When did this happen? Just the other week it seemed there were merely a few to choose from and now I had to get a pasta dictionary just to figure out what all these were. Was this some kind of marketing ploy?
After carefully perusing the shelves I understood why there were so many. Italians like to match the pasta to the sauce; and being there are numerous sauces to be made an equally number of pastas were now available. It appeared so simple, just match the perfect pair together. What? How? At that moment my eyes peered to the top rack and fixed on some oddly egg shaped ovals from a box. “What are these,” I asked. Uh oh, I’m talking to myself again in public.
They were jumbo shells and appeared to be a perfect alternative to lasagna noodles. I grabbed a box and rushed home to find a recipe that I could launch from. Wow…there were alot of recipes. They all had cheese and marinara along with various vegetable concoctions but I wanted it to be more substantial. It needed to be filled with meat. So over the next years I worked on my own recipe and this is what came of it. Enjoy!
I started by boiling the 22 pasta shells(I only used 20 but some always break) until they were just undone by 2 minutes according to the package. I rinsed them in cold water to cool and set aside. I roughly diced 1 medium onion, 4 cloves of garlic, 1 small bunch of Italian parsley (flat leaf) and 1 hand ful of basil about 1/3 cup. I put them in a food processor and pulsed until they were minced and set aside.
I added 1 tablespoon olive oil to a wide fry pan over medium high heat and added 1 pound of ground beef and 3 links of mild Italian sausage (casings removed) and cooked until they were browned about 8 minutes. I drained off the fat and added the reserved onion mixture along with 1 1/2 teaspoons dried Italian herb seasoning and 3 big pinches of kosher salt and cooked about 5 minutes. Using crumbled the meat with a potato masher until it was a fine consistency and let it cool slightly. I stirred in 1 beaten egg and 1/4 cup grated parmesan and set aside.
In the food processor I blended 16 ounces lowfat cottage cheese, 4 ounces grated mozarella, 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ground white pepper and a pinch of salt until creamy.
I heated up 36 ounces of marinara I had frozen. Homemade is best, but use whatever you like.
I added 1 cup of marinara to the bottom of a 9×13 glass pan and stuffed each shell with the meat mixture until it was full. I added a spoonfull of the cottage cheese mixture on top and placed them in the pan. I then added a small spoonfull of marinara on top and finished the tops of all with 8 ounces grated mozarella. I know what you’re saying-I don’t see any marinara on these. That’s because I’m such a dork with taking pictures, I forgot to add the sauce before the mozarella. So I added it on top. It ends up in the same place anyways…my belly! I covered them with foil (coated with cooking spray) and baked at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. I spooned the remaining sauce over and topped with the last 4 ounces of mozarella and baked un covered for an additional 15 minutes.
And this is what you end up with. Good stuff. Enjoy!
- 22 jumbo shells from a 12 ounce package prepared but 2 minutes underdone
- 1 onion chopped
- 4 garlic cloves chopped
- ⅓ cup packed fresh basil
- 1 small bunch Italian(flat leaf) parsley
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound ground beef
- 3 links mild Italian sausage(casings removed)
- 1½ teaspoons dried Italian herb seasoning
- 3 big pinches kosher salt
- 1 beaten egg
- ¼ cup grated parmesan
- 1 16 ounce container lowfat cottage cheese
- 16 ounces grated mozarella divided
- 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- pinch of salt
- 36 ounces marinara sauce
- Boil the the pasta in salted water until 2 minutes under done.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees
- Add the onion, garlic, basil and parsley to a food processor and pulse until finely minced then set aside.
- Add the olive oil to a wide fry pan over medium high heat. When hot add the beef and sausage and cookn until browned about 8 minutes and drain the fat. Add the onion mixture along with the I talian seasoning and salt to the meat. Cook for 5 minutes then using a potato masher, crumble until it's a fine consistency. After it's cooled slightly, mix in the egg and parmesan.
- Add the cottage cheese, 4 ounces of mozarella, white pepper, pinch of salt and nutmeg to the food processor and whirl until well blended.
- Pour 1 cup of marinara over the bottom of a 9x13 glass pan and fill each shell with the meat mixture. Top with some cottage cheese mix and place in the pan. Top each with some marinara and and 8 ounces of mozarella. Bake covered for 30 minutes.
- Remove cover and spoon remaining sauce over them and top with final 4 ounces mozarella. Cook uncovered for 15 minutes. Enjoy!