Sunday, May 13, 2012

Spicy Kale-Stuffed Shells

What dishes do you think of when you hear the term "comfort food?"  For me, anything from my childhood gives me the warm fuzzies.   Stuffed shells was my favorite meal growing up.  My mom always cooked us any meal we requested on our birthdays, and stuffed shells was always my choice.  So anytime I have stuffed shells in any form it makes me think of my birthdays.   My mom's recipe was pretty basic - just the standard cheese filling stuffed into big shells, smothered in marinara, and topped with more cheese.  I'd still eat that any night of the week, but this version is a little different.

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 cups low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese  
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese 
  • 2 Tbs minced fresh parsley or basil
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 2 cloves garlic 
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes 
  • 16 oz can crushed tomatoes (with herbs, if available) 
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • Kosher salt 
  • Fresh ground pepper
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.


Anonymous said...

I'm on a kale kick, so these would be great this week! Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

indeed, great comfort food, but with a new healthy twist! Great idea :)

Regarding Rehse said...

This looks so amazing! I can't wait to try it!

Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar said...

This sounds so yummy! Love this idea!

Ali @ Gimme Some Oven said...

I love stuffed shells!!! Definitely a great comfort food, although I like the healthier twist. :)

Nicole, RD said...

I'm always looking for ways to use kale in delicious ways...this looks perfect!

Melanie @ Just Some Salt and Pepper said...

Yummy, I've never thought to stuff them with kale.

Joanne said...

Anything cheesy and pasta-y sounds like comfort food to me! This would definitely hit the spot...especially with the kale to healthy it up!

Eileen said...

Kaaaale! I think stuffing kale into baked pasta is one of the easiest tricks by means of which to get anybody (including me) to east a massive amount of greens in one meal. Love it!

Jessica said...

To me almost anything with cheese and carbs is comfort food. :) These sound delicious!

Anonymous said...

I have really been enjoying kale lately and am always looking for new ways to incorporate this super food into my diet. This is a perfect weekday meal. :)

Anonymous said...

Made these for dinner last week and froze a second batch. These were really good! My first time using kale and I'm sold!

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