Spinach, Artichoke, and Feta Stuffed Shells

Inevitably, December always turns into sweets overload here. Of the 14 recipe posts on the site so far this month, only two have been savory. Are you in a sugar coma yet? :) What can I say, the holiday season is just so darn short (especially this year with Thanksgiving being late) and I want to share all the goodies I’m making with you! Fair warning – there are more sugary sweets coming your way in the next week, but for one day I’m giving you a reprieve and sharing something with veggies, something that’s much easier to justify for dinner than cookies. Trust me.

Spinach, Artichoke, and Feta Stuffed Shells

If you’re a fan of spinach and artichoke dip, you are going to love these stuffed shells! We’re basically taking a lot of the same ingredients – spinach, artichokes, feta, mozzarella, and ricotta – making a lightened-up version of the dip and then filling pasta shells with it. Topped with homemade tomato sauce and just a little more cheese, they’re my idea of comfort food and couldn’t be more perfect for this time of year. You can prep the shells ahead of time, refrigerate, and bake later in the day, or even throw the entire pan in the freezer to bake another day. In December my favorite kind of meals are definitely the ones that require almost no work on my part to pull together, and these stuffed shells fit the bill.

Spinach, Artichoke, and Feta Stuffed Shells

Spinach, Artichoke, and Feta Stuffed Shells
adapted from Cooking Light, December 2006 (via MyRecipes)

{Note: you could definitely use store-bought tomato sauce to make this dish even easier.}

Sauce
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (28-oz) can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
1 (8-oz) can no-salt-added tomato sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Shells
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 (9-oz) package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and chopped
1 (10-oz) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry
1 garlic clove, minced
20 cooked jumbo shells (about 8 oz uncooked pasta)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray a 13×9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

To make the sauce: Add the garlic, oil, and red pepper flakes to a medium saucepan (the pan should not be over the heat yet, you’re starting in a “cold” pan). Set the pan over medium heat and cook for about 2 minutes, or until the garlic is fragrant (be careful, it can burn quickly so don’t walk away). Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, and oregano, and let the sauce cook until slightly thickened and reduced, about 10-15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper (you can also add a little sugar if the sauce is too acidic). Spread 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the prepared pan. Set the rest aside to use later.

To make the filling: In a medium bowl, stir together 1/2 cup of the mozzarella, the feta, ricotta, black pepper, artichoke hearts, spinach, and garlic until combined. Spoon about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of the filling into each cooked shell and arrange them on top of the sauce in the pan. Continue until you’ve assembled all of the shells. Top the assembled shells with some (or all – it’s up to you) of the remaining sauce. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese over the top. At this point, you can freeze the shells for up to a month by covering the baking pan with plastic wrap then aluminum foil and placing it in the freezer.

Bake until the shells are warmed through and the cheese is beginning to brown, about 25 minutes if you bake them immediately after assembling, or 60-70 minutes if frozen.