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Baked Stuffed Shells: A Comforting Italian-American Classic

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Baked Stuffed Shells, known in Italian as “Conchiglioni Ripieni al Forno,” is a beloved dish that combines large pasta shells filled with a creamy ricotta and spinach mixture, topped with marinara sauce and melted cheese. This Italian-American favorite is a comforting and satisfying meal that brings together hearty flavors and textures. Join us as we explore the history, ingredients, preparation, and cultural significance of Baked Stuffed Shells, and learn how to prepare this delicious dish step-by-step.

Origins and History

Baked Stuffed Shells is a dish that originated in Southern Italy, where pasta shells, or “conchiglioni,” are commonly used in pasta dishes for their ability to hold rich fillings and sauces. This dish traveled with Italian immigrants to the United States, where it evolved into a popular Italian-American comfort food. The filling typically consists of a mixture of ricotta cheese, spinach, Parmesan cheese, and herbs, creating a creamy and flavorful stuffing that pairs perfectly with marinara sauce. Baked until bubbly and golden, Baked Stuffed Shells has become a staple in many American households, cherished for its simplicity and deliciousness.

Ingredients

For Baked Stuffed Shells:

  • 1 box (12 ounces) large pasta shells (conchiglioni)
  • 15 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups marinara sauce (homemade or store-bought)
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Fresh basil or parsley, chopped, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Prepare the Pasta Shells:
    • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
    • Cook the pasta shells according to package instructions until al dente (tender but still firm).
    • Drain the shells and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside.
  2. Make the Filling:
    • In a large bowl, combine ricotta cheese, thawed and squeezed dry spinach, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, egg, dried oregano, dried basil, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper.
    • Mix well until all ingredients are evenly incorporated.
  3. Fill the Shells:
    • Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C).
    • Spread 1 cup of marinara sauce evenly over the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish.
    • Take each cooked pasta shell and fill it generously with the ricotta and spinach mixture, about 1-2 tablespoons per shell.
    • Place the filled shells in a single layer in the baking dish.
  4. Bake the Stuffed Shells:
    • Spoon the remaining marinara sauce over the stuffed shells, covering them evenly.
    • Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella cheese and the remaining 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese over the top.
  5. Bake:
    • Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
  6. Serve:
    • Remove the foil and garnish with chopped fresh basil or parsley.
    • Serve hot and enjoy the comforting flavors of Baked Stuffed Shells.

Tips for Perfect Baked Stuffed Shells

  • Cooking the Pasta: Be sure to cook the pasta shells just until al dente, as they will continue to cook slightly in the oven. Rinse them under cold water to stop the cooking process and make them easier to handle.
  • Filling Consistency: The ricotta and spinach filling should be well combined and creamy. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to suit your taste preferences.
  • Baking Time: Covering the dish with foil during baking helps to trap moisture and ensure even cooking. Remove the foil towards the end of baking to allow the cheese to melt and develop a golden crust.

Cultural Significance

Baked Stuffed Shells represents the fusion of Italian culinary traditions with American comfort food preferences. In Italy, stuffed pasta dishes are a celebrated part of regional cuisine, often featuring local cheeses, herbs, and sauces. In the United States, Baked Stuffed Shells has become a go-to recipe for family gatherings and weeknight dinners, appreciated for its hearty flavors and ease of preparation. This dish embodies the spirit of Italian-American cooking, where traditional ingredients are adapted to suit local tastes and ingredients.

Conclusion

Baked Stuffed Shells is a dish that brings together the comforting flavors of ricotta cheese, spinach, and marinara sauce in a satisfying pasta dish. By combining tender pasta shells with a creamy filling and savory sauce, this recipe invites you to experience the warmth and richness of Italian-American cuisine. Prepare Baked Stuffed Shells at home to enjoy a delicious meal that is sure to please family and friends alike. Whether served as a main course or a side dish, Baked Stuffed Shells promises to bring a taste of Italy to your table and create lasting memories around good food and great company.

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Written by Robert Zelesky

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