Reuben and I have been dating for 3 years, and for 3 years he has been telling me about how wonderful his mom's stuffed shells are. A box of jumbo pasta shells has been sitting at the very top of our cupboard for the last year and I got tired of seeing it and fantasizing about these mystical stuffed shells.
K : "So, why haven't you made stuffed shells for me yet?!"
R : "I'm trying to get licensed here, Kristina. I don't got no time to be stuffing shells."
K : "Oh right... I'm going to figure it out then!" (puts on pants and scurries off to accidentally buy spinach instead of basil for the pesto).
Reuben and I moved into our sunny little apartment in the Inner Richmond a little over a year ago. Ever since then our cooking endeavors have been getting more and more elaborate. Getting crazy in the kitchen is a lot easier when you don't have a bunch of roommates to booty bump with. However, since we've moved in with each other, Reuben has been studying and taking his exams to become a licensed architect. That means 7 exams! Plus an extra special test if you want to be licensed in California. So that means my adventure buddy is stuck inside with his nose in a book or listening to some man drone on about structures for hours. He doesn't have time to stuff shells. He has 3+1 more tests to pass before he never has to study again! I can't wait! He'll make me so many pizzas and we'll go on so many hikes to burn off all the pizza!
It's all good though. I'm a strong independent woman fully capable of making my own stuffed shells. I got the recipe from Reuben's mom and started working! I decided to add a Kale Pesto to the mix because I've been loving Kale Pesto lately. It's so fresh and bright, I could put it on everything. You'll also notice that I used Thai Basil for my pesto. The Asian Market a block from our place sells really beautiful Thai Basil and pretty sad looking Italian Basil. It honestly, doesn't make that huge of a difference in terms of flavor. I might even say that Thai Basil tastes a little better!
When I ate one of these 4 cheese filled pasta pillows, I finally understood why Reuben loved them so much. They were so gooey and comforting. Yet somehow light and fluffy from the mix of Ricotta and Cottage Cheese. I convinced myself that these were semi-healthy or not super bad for you because of the amount of greens that were on my counter top when I first start. Look at it all! I just ignore that there are 4 different cheese in there...
Reuben was super satisfied and said it tasted like his childhood. Success!
Stuffed Shells with Kale Pesto
Kale Pesto :
1 Bunch of Kale (about 3 cups chopped)
1 Packed Cup of Basil
1/4 Cup Pinenuts
5 Garlic Cloves
1/4 C Olive Oil + 1 tsp for pinenuts
1/2 Parmesan Cheese
1 tsp Salt
Tomato Sauce :
28oz Can of Crushed Tomatoes
6 Large Basil Leaves
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
Stuffed Shells :
1LB Jumbo Pasta Shells
3 Cup Chopped Fresh Spinach
8oz Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese
8oz Cottage Cheese
1 Medium White Onion - diced
3 Garlic Cloves
1/4 Cup Parmesan Cheese + more for garnish
1/2 Cup Shredded Mozzarella
1. Start making the pesto by heating a tsp of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Toast the pinenuts until golden brown. Add kale, basil, pinenuts, parmesan cheese, garlic cloves, and salt into a food processor or immersion blender. Pulse everything a little bit at a time and slowly add your olive oil. Add a little more olive oil if you want your pesto a little looser. Transfer pesto to a small bowl or container and set aside.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta shells and cook for 2 minutes less than instructed.
3. Make a simple tomato sauce by simmering your crushed tomatoes with fresh basil and olive oil. Let your sauce slowly simmer for 20 mins. Season with salt and pepper. You could also use your favorite pasta sauce if you don't want to make your own.
4. To make your pasta filling, heat 2 tsp of olive oil in a skillet to medium high heat and sauté the diced onions and garlic until soft. about 5 minutes. Add chopped spinach to the pan and cook until wilted. About 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside in a bowl and allow to cool.
5. Combine ricotta, cottage cheese, and 1 egg in a medium bowl. Mix to combine and add cooled onion and spinach mixture. Mix in parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper.
6. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Add a layer of tomato sauce to the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Start stuffing your shells by adding a heaping tablespoon of cheese filling to each shell. Arrange your shells in the pan until full. Add the remaining tomato sauce and pesto in between the gaps and on top of the shells. Top the whole dish with mozzarella and sprinkle of parmesan.
7. Cover the baking dish with foil and baked covered for 25 mins. After 25 mins, remove foil and baked uncovered for an additional 15 minutes to brown.
8. Let cool and enjoy!