My granddaughter Sarah at age 6 loves to help out in the kitchen, so when I am spending time with her I am always looking for recipes she can get involved with. As most kids do, my grandkids adore pasta, so I pulled out an old recipe I made many times in the past for stuffed shells.
The filling is a combination of spinach, sausage, and ricotta cheese, and although the kids normally wouldn’t consider eating spinach, they didn’t even seem to notice it in the filling.
Stuffing shells is a great job for little fingers, and all I had to do myself was to make the filling, cook the pasta shells, and make the tomato sauce. Sarah stuffed the shells herself, spooned the sauce on top, and then sprinkled on the cheese. She was so excited to see how they turned out that she asked me to turn on the oven light and pulled up a chair and watched them cook. Of course she thought that they were the most delicious tasting pasta shells ever made once they were finished cooking and served to the rest of the family!
The kids are going through a phase right now where they do not like the texture of chopped tomatoes, so we used pureed ones. If I was making this dish just for adults in the family I would probably use spicy Italian sausage in place of the mild ones, and I would add some chopped fresh basil to the filling mix.
Note: This dish can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated. Before baking, allow the refrigerated dish to come to room temperature then bake as directed.
Little Fingers Are Perfect For Stuffing Shells
Children Love Helping Out In The Kitchen!
The Shells Are Stuffed So It’s Time To Spoon On The Tomato Sauce
The Dish Is Assembled And Ready To Bake
Close Up Of Completed Dish
- 1 Package Jumbo Pasta Shells
- 1 Cup Diced Onion
- 3 Links Sweet Italian Sausage, Casings Removed
- 1 Clove Garlic, Minced
- 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 Large Egg
- 1 (16-ounce) Container of Ricotta Cheese
- 3 Cups Cooked Chopped Spinach
- 1 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
- 1 Cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
- Salt & Pepper
- 1 Recipe For Quick Tomato Sauce
- 1 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
- To make the filling, heat the olive oil in a heavy frying pan, and cook the sausage meat until it is browned, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks.
- Add the onions and garlic and continue to cook until the onions are soft.
- Remove from the heat and drain off any excess fat, then allow to cool.
- In a large bowl, mix together the sausage mixture with the ricotta cheese, egg, chopped spinach, mozzarella and parmesan cheese, and season with salt and pepper.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Cook the pasta shells according to the instructions on the package until they are "al dente".
- Drain, rinse in cold water, and set aside.
- Spread 1 cup tomato sauce over the bottom of an oven-proof baking or casserole dish large enough to hold all of the shells.
- Add a couple of teaspoons of water to the sauce and mix well.
- Stuff each shell with some of the filling mixture and lay the shells open side up into the casserole dish.
- Continue to fill all of the shells in this fashion.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Spoon the tomato sauce on the shells leaving some areas exposed.
- Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of Parmesan cheese on top, then bake for about 30 minutes or until the dish is bubbly and just beginning to brown.
- Serve immediately.