Stuffed Pasta Shells of Beef, Spinach and Ricotta

I found this recipe in a healthy eating magazine. Normally I run screaming from dishes that purport to be healthy because they tend to have a lot less butter and bacon, among other things, than I like. They’re usually concerned with being low fat or low cholesterol, obviously, so that often takes the fun away. But anyway, as this recipe has a bunch of spinach in it, it is good for your health (spinach is full of luteins which are good for your eyes!). Against the warm spiciness of the nutmeg, the lemon zest makes this dish go kapow! Love it.

This time round, the supermarkets were not forthcoming with the required large pasta shells, or conchiglioni, so The Mammy picked up canneloni. Once cooked, we sliced them open, filled them down the middle then rolled them and placed them in the baking dish amongst the tomato sauce. It was messy but it worked out ok in the end. However, I felt they would have benefitted from a nice bechamel sauce. The shells are generally easier to fill and make for good presentation. I imagine the beef mixture could do well in ravioli. It’s all pasta, right? Feel free to do your thing.

As I am somewhat of a food snob and tend to turn my nose up at most processed foods, I decided to forego the store-bought jar of arrabiata and make my own, seeing as how there were tins of tomatoes in the cupboard.

Serves 4 in theory, but be generous and add a side salad and/or some garlic bread.

Stuffed Pasta Shells of Beef, Spinach and Ricotta

For the tomato sauce:
350g jar of arrabiata/spicy sauce or
1 x 400g tin of tomatoes
2 tblsp tomato purée
¼ cup of water
1 tblsp sugar
1-2 tsp salt
1-2 tsp black pepper
3-4 drops tabasco
1 tsp of ground hot spice – I used ¼tsp smoked paprika, ¼tsp mild red chilli powder mix, ½tsp ground cayenne chilli pepper
Pour the contents of the tin into a 500ml pyrex jug; swish the water around the empty tin and pour it in; add the purée and seasonings, adding more or less to taste; leave to infuse for awhile if you desire, or use straightaway.
For everything else:
175g large pasta shells
375g lean minced beef
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
225g fresh baby spinach
100g ricotta
1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Zest of 1 lemon
350g jar of arrabiata sauce or use your own, as above!
15g parmesan, grated
15g pine nuts, toasted

1. Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F. Cook the pasta al dente, drain and allow to cool while you make the filling.

2. In the largest frying pan you have (you’ll need space for cooking down the spinach), brown the minced beef along with the garlic, about 3-4mins. Reduce the heat. add the spinach, season and cook for another 1-2mins.

3. Turn off the heat. Add the ricotta, nutmeg and lemon zest. Mix well. If you feel the mixture is a little dry, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan or in the oven for 5 mins, until just browned.

4. Pour the tomato sauce into a medium-sized ovenproof dish. Fill the pasta shells using a small spoon and place each shell (or whatever you’re having yourself) into the sauce. Sprinkle over the parmesan and toasted pine nuts. Cook for 20-25mins until the sauce is bubbling and the pasta shells have begun to crisp on the edges.


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