This meal is my favorite kind of comfort food. It's Italian, but it doesn't feel heavy. It's inexpensive to make. It's filling and comforting and absolutely delicious. Bonus points for being kid-friendly (my boys love this one) and really easy to make...or to make ahead of time.
I'm a huge fan of pesto, and it's definitely the star of this recipe. You can taste its herbaceous, earthy flavor in each and every bite. It worked really well with the ricotta cheese, although next time I make this, I think I'll sub cream cheese for the ricotta. I prefer the flavor and texture of cream cheese over ricotta (she says, as you all gasp in horror). I'd also love to try this with a homemade roasted tomato sauce. You all know how much I love my roasted tomatoes!
Really, though? This is delicious just as it is. It's the perfect warm-you-up meal for the bitingly cold winter days we've been having lately.
Cheesy Pesto Stuffed Shells
adapted from Budget Bytes
12 ounces jumbo shell pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese (or 8 ounces cream cheese, with a bit of milk to thin it)
1 cup shredded Italian-style cheese
1/2 cup basil pesto
1 jar pasta sauce (I used a tomato-basil version, but a roasted red pepper one would be delicious too)
Parmesan cheese, if desired
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the pasta according to package directions in boiling, salted water. Add olive oil to keep the shells from sticking to each other or the pot. Be careful not to overcook the pasta. Drain the pasta and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process. Let the pasta drain.
2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix together the ricotta, shredded cheese, pesto, and egg. Refrigerate the filling until you are ready to use it.
3. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture into the center of each shell. Add enough of the ricotta mixture to fill the shell so that it stays open just slightly (the edges should be about 1/2 inch apart). Fill as many shells as you can with the ricotta mixture.
4. Spread one cup of pasta sauce in the bottom of a glass baking dish. Place all of the shells in the baking dish as close together as possible and pour the remaining 2 cups of sauce over top. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling up around the edges. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, if desired.