I don’t think I ever cooked a stuffed shell until I saw this recipe.
This wonderful vegetarian dish is made up of a host of ingredients. Boursin Cheese and Cannellini beans give the filling of these shells their creaminess. The subtle heat comes from Calabrian Chiles. Fennel seeds give jarred Marinara sauce an earthy quality. Once cooked, the shells themselves turn crisp and crunchy. I’ve never intentionally done that to pasta ever before. Surprise! They were wonderful to eat. I didn’t follow the original recipe. I followed the inspiration for the dish instead.
F&WCooks is a monthly feature in Food and Wine that celebrates Home Cooks.
The magazine describes F&WCOOKS as “our community of ace home cooks who share their most delicious recipes and ideas in every issue”. I am not sure Ann Taylor Pittman qualifies exactly. The author of the original recipe describes herself as: “A two-time James Beard Foundation Award-winning recipe developer, editor, cookbook author, writer, and content packager. I’ve developed many hundreds of recipes and tested more than that. I’ve staffed and supervised the finest healthy-cooking test kitchen in the country. Now I’m a freelance writer, editor, cook, and mom living in Birmingham, Alabama.” Phew.
The genesis for this recipe is a Cocktail Party treat that goes back to the 1950s.
Often in a hollowed-out circular loaf of bread, Spinach, and Artichoke Dip dates from the 50s. In 1952, the Lipton Company, having successfully launched its instant soups, wanted to expand their use. The company began promoting Instant Soup mixes in combination with sour cream to make dips. Their timing was impeccable. A huge boom in eating in front of the TV fueled the rise of the dip, which required no utensils except for a potato or corn chip. Chipmakers like Lay’s happily exhorted their use with dips. Artichokes’ popularity increased once American soldiers tasted their first artichokes in Europe during World War II.
Fascinating Facts about the Artichoke.
The artichoke’s introduction to America came in the 1890s. Then waves of Italian immigrants started arriving in California. To this day, nearly 100 percent of all artichokes grown commercially come from one California county, Monterey. In the 16th century, eating an artichoke was reserved only for men. The artichoke was considered an aphrodisiac thought to enhance sexual power. This pleasure was denied to women. Now for my favorite artichoke fact of them all: Marilyn Monroe was the first official California Artichoke Queen in 1949.
What did we alter from Ann Taylor Pittman’s Recipe?
Kale. Although the classic Spinach and Artichoke Dip was Ms. Pittman’s inspiration she swapped out the spinach for 2 medium bunches of Lacinato Kale, stemmed, and chopped. She writes Kale “adds richer earthiness and a heftier texture that is particularly well-suited to stuffed pasta”.Suit yourself. I am sticking to spinach. Here is the recipe. And after it a few other pasta dishes we can’t get enough of.
Spinach and Artichoke Stuffed Shells
Cannellini Beans add hearty creaminess to these vegetarian stuffed shells while subtle heat from Calabrian chiles and an earthy sweetness from fennel seeds amp up store-bought Marinara sauce.
- 3 quarts s plus ¼ cup water, divided
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 16 uncooked jumbo pasta shells (about 6 ounces), plus more, if needed
- 1 ½ cups jarred marinara sauce (such as Rao’s)
- 2 teaspoons s finely chopped jarred Calabrian chiles (about 3 chiles), or more to taste
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- Cooking spray
- ¼ cup olive oil, divided
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1-5 oz bag of Organic Spinach
- 1 (12-ounce) jar marinated quartered artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
- 1 (15.5-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 (5.2-ounce) container garlic-and-herb spreadable cheese (such as Boursin)
- 4 ounces s provolone cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
- Step 1 Preheat oven to 375°F. Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high. Stir in 3 tablespoons salt, and return to a boil. Add pasta shells. Cook, stirring occasionally until pasta is al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set shells aside.
- Step 2 Stir together marinara, Calabrian chiles, and fennel seeds in a medium bowl. Season with salt to taste. Spray a 13- x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with cooking spray. Spread sauce in an even layer in the dish, and set aside.
- Step 3 Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium. Swirl to coat. Add garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add spinach, and toss to coat. Drizzle remaining 1/4 cup water over spinach. Cover and cook until spinach is tender, about 3 minutes, stirring once halfway through cook time. Add artichoke hearts. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until warmed, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Step 4 Combine beans, spreadable cheese, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a food processor. Process until smooth and creamy, about 45 seconds, stopping to scrape down sides as needed. Add bean mixture to spinach mixture, and stir until well combined. Season with salt to taste.
- Step 5 Spoon bean mixture evenly into cooked pasta shells (about 3 tablespoons per shell). Arrange shells on the marinara mixture, and sprinkle evenly with provolone. Bake, uncovered, in the preheated oven until provolone melts and sauce is bubbly about 20 minutes. Increase oven temperature to high broil, and broil until cheese begins to brown, 1 to 3 minutes. Serve hot.
- Step 6 Make-Ahead: Pasta shells can be stuffed up to 2 days ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Let shells come to room temperature before baking.