It's been a rainy rainy weekend here in Northern California but despite the weather, we had a fantastic weekend. A lazy Saturday morning and afternoon at home, a holiday party Saturday night with great friends, an early morning matinee to see Tron, Legacy in 3-D this morning, and then a stop at the local outdoor mall to finish up the Christmas shopping this afternoon. We got caught out in the rain at the outdoor mall, so by the time we got home, around 2pm, we were soaked and pretty chilled. A roaring fire in the fireplace was definitely in order, and for dinner, comfort food was definitely going to be on the menu.
For me, Italian casseroles are the epitome of comfort food. Lasagne, Baked Ziti, Stuffed Shells, these are the dishes I grew up eating and when I crave comfort food, these dishes are what I want. Stuffed Shells are probably my favorite of all. The traditional version is stuffed with cheese, and more cheese. I fill mine with veggies and spicy turkey sausage, and just a little cheese. Whole Wheat pasta shells and a quick home-made spicy tomato sauce finish the dish. Just as delicious as the original, but a little less guilt inducing on the nutritional scale. I like to use kale for the stuffing, but spinach works too and I use reduced fat ricotta and mozzarella cheese to help keep the dish on the lighter side.
Turkey Sausage & Kale Stuffed Shells
1 pkg Spicy Turkey Sausage
1/2 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large portabella mushroom cap, diced into small pieces
1 bunch of kale, roughly chopped
Salt & Pepper
1 15oz container Ricotta Cheese
1 & 1/2 cups grated mozzarella
1 box jumbo shells
7-8 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 red onion, finely diced\
Salt & Pepper
1 to 2 Tbsps dried oregano
1tsp red pepper flakes
2 or 3 bay leaves
1 cup red wine (Any dry red will work, Cabernet is a good choice)
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 15oz can tomato sauce
Fresh Basil, finely chopped
- Make the Sauce. In a large saucepan sauté the onions in a little olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add in the garlic and continue to cook for another minute. Season with salt & pepper, then add the oregano, bay leaves and hot pepper flakes. Stir for a minute or two, turn the heat up to high and add in the red wine. Continue cooking over high heat until the wine has been reduced by about two-thirds. Turn the heat down to medium-low, add in the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce, and let sauce simmer, covered, while you make the filling and cook the noodles.
- Cook the Turkey Sausage. If the turkey sausage came in links, remove the casings and cook the sausage in a large skillet over medium high heat. Once the sausage is browned, drain the sausage and set aside.
- Cook the Veggies. Wipe the excess grease out of the skillet the sausage was cooked in, add a little olive oil, and cook the onions over medium heat for a few minutes. Add in the minced garlic and mushrooms, season with some salt & pepper and continue to cook until mushrooms and onions have softened. Add in the kale and continue to cook over medium low heat until the kale has cooked down, stirring occasionally. Once the kale has cooked down , remove the veggie mixture from the heat and transfer them to a large mixing bowl. Let cool.
- Cook the Pasta. Cook an entire box of jumbo shells according to the package directions. I like to use whole wheat shells, but regular ones work just as well. Once they are done, transfer to a colander and run under cold water to prevent them from sticking together. Drain the shells really well.
- Make the Filling. Once the kale, onion & mushroom mixture has cooled, add in the browned sausage, the container of ricotta cheese and a cup of shredded mozzarella. Stir well.
- Stuff the shells. Stuff each cooked pasta shell with a couple tablespoons of the kale & sausage mixture.
- Finish the sauce and build the casserole. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Remove the lid from the tomato sauce and stir in the basil. Remove the sauce from the heat. Cover the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish with some of the sauce and then fill the dish with the a single layer of the stuffed shells. One box of shells should fill one 9 x 13 casserole dish. Pour additional sauce over the top of the shells. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of grated mozzarella cheese over the top and then bake the casserole for about 35 to 40 minutes.
- Serve! When the casserole is done, take it out of the oven and let it sit for about 5 minutes, then serve the shells with the remaining tomato sauce on the side.
Oh, and if you are wondering what we thought of Tron, Legacy, well, it was Awesome. With a Capital A. We loved it. Amazing to look at, and a pretty good story for a SciFi movie. It's certainly not an Academy Award contender, but, it is a great sci-fi adventure that sucks you in to it's world for 2 hours, and well worth the extra bucks to see it in 3-D.