I know a lot of people traditionally commemorate the holidays with turkey dinners, complete with stuffing and pumpkin pie- but my family has always done things our own way- and one of my favorite Holiday traditions food-wise are the pre-Christmas carb-overloads we indulge in to make sure everyone is not only left feeling full and satisfied, but stress-free as well. Who wants to spend their Christmas Eve/Christmas Day cooking an elaborate dinner or dealing with the cleanup afterwards? We’re all about simplicity- without compromising flavor.
That’s why one of my favorite dishes to prepare and share with family during the holiday season is this hearty, warming, cheesy-in-the-best-ways pasta dish that takes just over an hour to prepare and bake to perfection.
Make sure you’re somewhere comfortable after you eat this one- because you are going to need some time to rest and recover from how good it is.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED:
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1-pound ground spicy Italian sausage
- Two 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes, plus more as needed
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- One 8-ounce bag frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- One 1-pound box jumbo pasta shells
- 16 ounces whole-milk ricotta cheese
- 2 cups shredded Gouda cheese
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped, plus more for serving
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, torn
WHAT YOU’LL DO:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat the olive oil in a large oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the sausage and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the crushed tomatoes, bell pepper, oregano, red-pepper flakes and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the spinach. Taste and add more salt, pepper and red-pepper flakes.
2. Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the shells and cook according to the package directions, until al dente. Drain well.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, Gouda and basil. Transfer the mixture to a gallon-size zip-top bag. Push the mixture into one corner of the bag, squeeze the air out of the top of the bag, and snip about ½ inch off that corner.
4. Working with one at a time, pipe about 1 tablespoon of the cheese mixture into each shell, then place them in the skillet. Sprinkle the shells evenly with mozzarella.
5. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the cheese has melted and is lightly browning on top, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes, then top with fresh basil to serve. Store any leftovers refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days.
NOTE: If you’re feeding a vegetarian crowd or just prefer to go meatless, you can omit the sausage and simply add more crushed red-pepper flakes to taste.
I made a side of garlic bread with this one- just to get the extra carbs in before I have to start my New Year’s Resolutions come January 1st- and it was just such a delicious and filling meal I could eat over and over again in these cold, frigid New England months.
And given how much I love this recipe- it seemed like the perfect way to wrap up my recipe posts for 2020! I can’t wait to share new ones in 2021!