Shells could not be more than one of my most favorite things to make in the chilly season. The kids love them, they want to help, and if I need to make them in the morning or a day ahead as a time saver, I can easily do so.
I’m not sure why shells over lasagna became a thing for me. With the kids, by the time either is served and cut, it pretty much looks the same. Like a cheesy plate of pasta. Totally nondescript. I guess over the years I just realized that it was a simpler task to just whip up the ricotta mixture in a bowl and spoon into little shells instead of layering and spreading, and spreading and layering, wash-rinse-repeat. Don’t get me wrong, a beautifully layered lasagna completely has its time and place. It just typically isn’t in my school night week routine. It’s more in my ‘I have high hopes but only when the snow has banked us in and given me an excuse to take the time’ repertoire…without laundry involved.
I’ve been making a red sauce version of shells for years now. Always with a spinach and basil ricotta filling, and it’s been met with big smiles every time. Once I realized that the kids like a white sauce, and in fact LOVE a white sauce, I started trying it everywhere. Including these shells.
So far, I’ve only done a simple filling of shredded chicken with basil and spinach, and the recipe you see here…chicken-less and sundried tomato gained. Spinach and tomatoes go hand in hand for me in many ways, and this one doesn’t disappoint. Serve with crusty bread and a big salad…and a glass of red won’t hurt…ENJOY!
SPINACH AND SUNDRIED TOMATO SHELLS WITH GARLIC BECHAMEL
Yield 4 people
- 2 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk (I use 2%)
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 1/2 cups shredded fontinella cheese
- 18 pasta shells, cooked according to the package instructions
- 1 1/2 cups small curd cottage cheese
- 2 cups ricotta cheese
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2/3 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
- 2/3 cup cooked spinach, squeezed and drained
- 5 large basil leaves, chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3/4 cup shredded mozzerella
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- In a medium bowl, use a spoon to mix together the cottage cheese through the salt and pepper until all ingredients are well incorporated. Set aside.
- In a medium sized saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add in the flour and whisk for 2 minutes or until the mixture becomes golden brown in color.
- Whisk in the garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant.
- Slowly pour in the milk, whisking consistently, and cook until flour roux has dissolved and mixture begins to slightly thicken, about 5-7 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in the fontinella until melted. Place back over the lowest burner heat to keep warm.
- Using a small spoon, spoon about 1/4 cup of the mixture into each shell (or enough to just fill each). Place shells side by side in a 10 by 10 baking dish sprayed with cooking spray.
- Pour the béchamel sauce over the shells and use a spatula to evenly spread it over top. Sprinkle the mozzarella evenly overtop and bake for 20 minutes, broiling for the last 2-4 if a browned top is desired.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving. ENJOY!
If making this dish ahead, allow the sauce to cool slightly before spreading over the shells. Then prepare in entirety as directed prior to baking. Allow to cool to room temperature and then wrap the dish tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 16 hours before baking. When ready to bake, remove from refrigerator and bake as directed.