Here’s am updated classic solution for Meatless Monday dinner – Kale and Ricotta Stuffed Shells. It’s a cold weather comfort food dish with a creamy cheese and kale filling, topped with your favorite tomato sauce.
The Power of Kale & Dark Leafy Greens
One of the healthiest vegetables you can eat, kale is a power-packed member of the cabbage family. It’s considered a “superfood” – whole foods that have a naturally high concentration of nutrients, which makes this recipe update truly super.
Although I love vegetables, I did not grow up eating dark leafy greens beyond spinach or red lettuce for salad. And I didn’t cook with them much, until I discovered their power-packed nutritional profile. No longer foreign greens, I am finding ways to incorporate kale into my diet.
Kale & Nutrition
Reading about kale’s nutritional properties is amazing. It’s shown to lower cholesterol, fight cancer, be full of vitamins and minerals, and support the bodies natural detoxification system. It has some of the highest antioxidant levels of any vegetable. Wow. While you can find it the market almost year round, its peak is now, from mid-winter through early spring.
I’ve been buying Lacinato or Tuscan kale (also known as Dinosaur kale), which is a little milder than curly kale. This variety of kale has dark evergreen colored leaves that look embossed or heavily textured.
Look for bunches with smaller leaves as they will be more more tender than larger leaves. And be sure to buy organic if possible. Kale is on the EWG’s “dirty dozen” list of worst produce for pesticides.
How to Prep and Cook Kale
To prepare kale, cut out the center tough ribs, then cook the leaves briefly in boiling salted water (called blanching), about three minutes. Dunk the leaves into a bowl of ice water to set the color and stop the cooking process.
Making Kale and Ricotta Stuffed Shells
Drain the kale leaves and dry well. If you have one, a salad spinner will get most of the water out, then squeeze dry in paper towels, removing excess moisture. Next, chop the kale and mix into a bowl with sauteed onions, garlic, cheeses and herbs. Fill cooked jumbo pasta shells with the filling. Place in a casserole dish, top with sauce, then bake.
For sauce, you can use your favorite jarred sauce, or homemade. Here is my recipe for an oven roasted tomato marinara. Roast it while you are working on the other steps or make it ahead and refrigerate for a few days.
One last ingredient note: I prefer to cook with whole wheat pasta (and now gluten-free). Unfortunately, jumbo shells do not come in whole wheat as they are still considered a specialty noodle.
When I asked my favorite pasta manufacturer (Delallo) about the possibility, they replied they had no plans to make shells in whole wheat as of yet. Maybe one day. In the mean time, the Delallo regular jumbo shells are great.
An option is to use whole wheat lasagna or brown rice noodles for gluten-free trimmed to 6″-6 1/2″. Place about 1/4 cup of the filling on one end and roll. Place in the casserole laying flat, top with sauce and bake. I call these lasagna ruffles.
Other helpful links and information:
Worlds Healthiest Foods site, information on kale’s incredible nutritional properties
The Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Pesticides in produce
Wusthof Grand Prix II 7″ Santoku knife, one of my favorite, must-have knives.