It's still a vegetarian dish, and it's still just a basic cheese filling and marinara sauce, but with a few twists. In addition to the cheese filling, the shells are also stuffed with chopped kale. And the marinara sauce is garlicky and spicy. But of course they are still topped with melty, gooey cheese.
I've discussed Joey's lukewarm feelings towards kale already, but suffice to say when kale is mixed with cheese, stuffed into pasta, and then topped with a spicy marinara and more cheese, he eats it. And Caroline did too. She likes spicy food, so this wasn't too hot for her, but if you or your kids are sensitive to heat then just adjust the red pepper flakes accordingly.
This most definitely fits the bill as comfort food, but it's one you can feel good about eating - it's loaded with kale, uses low-fat cottage cheese, and only calls for a modest amount of cheese. It's a dish that I know I'll make again and again, and I hope that it's one that reminds my own kids of their childhood as well.
Spicy Kale-Stuffed Shells
adapted from the Spicy Kale Lasagna by A Couple Cooks
- 8 oz jumbo shells
- 3/4-1 lb kale, washed, stems removed, and roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and lightly grease square baking dish or a pie plate.
Boil the shells according to the package directions, drain, and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the kale and a splash of water, stirring the kale until it's wilted and softened, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from heat, transfer the kale to a strainer and set aside.
Return the pan to the stove, add the oil, and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, and stirring constantly, cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, dried oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, wrap the kale in a lint-free kitchen towel or paper towels and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Chop into small pieces and set aside.
Strain the cottage cheese through a strainer, pressing to remove as much liquid as possible. Transfer the strained cheese to a medium bowl and stir in 1/3 cup of the parmesan cheese, 3/4 cup of the mozzarella, herbs, and kale. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and pepper to taste.
To assemble the shells, spread a thin layer of the tomato sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. Use a spoon to fill each shell with the kale-cottage cheese mixture, then arrange in a single layer in the dish. Pour the remaining sauce over the pasta, then sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan and mozzarella.
Bake, covered, 25-30 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese has melted. Remove the foil for the last 5 minutes or so. Let stand about 5-10 minutes before serving.