Happy Martin Luther King Day, y'all!
Since I'm thinking that everybody must be out celebrating freedom and human rights or working on your day of service and stuff like that, you might appreciate a tasty make-ahead meal that you can whip together this morning, and it'll be all ready to pop in the oven when you get home from the holiday fun.
And it just happens to be Monday, which means...
...over at Jan's Sushi Bar! I've been wanting to jump in and play with Jan for weeks now, and I'm excited to finally take the plunge. I know that Jan's not really approving of grains that are not "properly prepared", but I think she's gonna let my pasta slide this time...
Turkey, Artichoke & Spinach Stuffed Shells
1 12-oz. box jumbo pasta shells
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb. ground turkey
1 tsp. salt, divided
freshly ground pepper
1 14-oz. can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 bunch fresh spinach, washed, trimmed and chopped
1 15-oz. container part skim ricotta cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley
5 cups marinara sauce (see note below)
1 1/2 cups grated part skim mozzarella
Partially cook the pasta shells in a large pot of boiling water. Check the recommendation on the box, but it should need to cool about 6 minutes or so. Drain the pasta, lay it out on a tray and let it cool.
Meanwhile, in a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oi l over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until the onions are soft and just beginning to brown, about 3 minutes, then add the garlic for a minute. Add the ground turkey, 1/2 tsp. of the salt and black pepper to taste, and cook, stirring to break up the meat, until the turkey is cooked through. Add the chopped spinach. Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to add it in batches, allowing it to shrink up as you add. Add the artichokes and stir to heat through. Remove from heat and let cool.
In a large bowl, combine the cooled turkey mixture with the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, eggs, basil, parsley and the remaining salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
To stuff the shells, cover the bottom of a 9 X 13 inch baking dish with 1 cup of marinara sauce. Take a shell in the palm of your hand and stuff it with a large spoonful of the turkey mixture, about 2 tbsp. Place the stuffed shell in the baking dish. Continue filling the shells until the baking dish is full - 24 shells pretty much fills it perfectly. Drizzle the remaining 4 cups of marinara sauce over the shells, and top with the grated mozzarella.
If you want to freeze it at this point, cover it with plastic wrap and stick it in the freezer for up to a month.
To bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake until it's warmed through and the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown, about 20 minutes unfrozen, or 60 minutes frozen.
NOTE ABOUT MARINARA:
I am a bit of a snob regarding canned/jarred marinara sauce. There is absolutely no reason to ever use jarred sauce. It's SO easy to make homemade. There are as many variations of "the sauce" (as Mommy calls it - please hear it in her New York accent) as there are Italian cooks. It's all good. I am not a snob about that, as long as it's homemade.
While it seems like a homemade sauce made of fresh tomatoes would be the best of all, that's only true in the summertime, when you can get really good fresh tomatoes. The rest of the year, it's better to just buy a good brand of canned tomatoes. San Marzano is generally considered to be the primo canned tomato out there, but it's really expensive, and not available everywhere. I say, when you find it, stock up on them and use them for special. Mommy's a big fan of good old Hunt's.
It's best to buy whole canned tomatoes and then puree them yourself in the blender, but truly, buying tomato sauce is just fine. Mommy actually usually uses crushed tomatoes, but that's kind of unusual. Mommy's rule of thumb is that 1 28-oz can of tomatoes will make enough sauce for 1 lb. of pasta.
Some people put onion in their sauce, but Mommy's people (Sicilians) think that's very strange - probably something those crazy Northern Italians do. But definitely garlic and olive oil goes in it.
There's a great misconception out there that it takes a long time to make marinara sauce. Untrue! It only takes about 20 minutes. Those cook-all-Sunday sauces are only meat sauces.
Just heat a little oil in a saucepan. Toss in some chopped garlic - figure one or two cloves per 28-oz can of tomatoes. After about a minute, toss in the tomato sauce. You can also toss in a couple of leaves of fresh basil at this point. Let it simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes and it's done.
That's the sauce. You have no excuses.