Baked pasta dishes are such a great time saver. They can be made well in advance to freeze, be made using whatever ingredients you have on hand and they are comforting yet perfect for guests coming over for dinner. My two favorite baked pasta dishes would have to be lasagnas and jumbo stuffed shells. Since we have a small family of 2, I like to make individual portions by baking lasagnas or stuffed shells in mini loaf pans. Stuffed shells are just fun because they’re much easier to serve, allowing a few stuffed shells per person.
I made the following stuffed shells recipe to use up the random ingredients I have on hand. Earthy cremini mushrooms, fresh basil from my Aerogarden and a mild italian sausage are mixed with creamy ricotta and a blend of shredded Italian cheeses to fill each of the pasta shells, which are then baked with a homemade bolognese pasta sauce. You can enjoy this today, tomorrow or next week… but I’ve found the longer the flavors meld, the better it is!
original Joelen recipe
water for boiling/cooking shells
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 package jumbo pasta shells
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
10 oz, sliced cremini mushrooms
1 lb mild Italian Sausage
1 16oz tub of ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cup shredded Italian cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups homemade or jarred pasta sauce
1/2 cup shredded Italian cheese for garnish
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
In a large stock pot, add water to fill and allow it to come to a boil. When boiling, add the pasta and salt and cook until al dente. Drain and set aside.
In a dutch oven over medium high heat, heat the oil. Add the onions and garlic; saute until softened. Add the mushrooms and crumble the italian sausage into the pot and brown throughly. Remove from pot and drain any excess oil; place in a large bowl.
To the large bowl add the ricotta cheese, shredded Italian cheeses and fresh basil. Fold in together to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
In a baking dish, place 1 cup of pasta sauce on the bottom and spread to cover. Place the al dente pasta shells in a layer to cover the bottom of the baking dish. Carefully spoon in the sausage/mushroom/basil/cheese mixture into each shell.
1) assemble the dish and package up for your freezer. When ready to bake, thaw the dish completely and continue with the baking instructions above.
2) fully bake the dish and allow to cool completely before packaging up for your freezer. When ready to enjoy, thaw the dish completely and reheat in a preheated 350 degree oven until warmed through.