With many people looking for recipes to serve for Meatless Monday’s, I decided to update an old-time, cold weather comfort food dish: kale and ricotta stuffed shells. It's a bit of work but well worth the effort and it freezes well. If you can't find shells, use lasagna noodles or manicoti shells and see tips at the end of the post.
Kale and Ricotta Stuffed Shells
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. Although I love vegetables, I did not grow up eating dark leafy greens beyond spinach and I didn’t cook with them much. No longer foreign greens, I am finding ways to incorporate kale into my diet.
Buy 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.
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. For other sauce options, check out my mushroom marinara and quick, 30-minute pasta sauce.
Ingredient Notes: Going Gluten-free
I used to cook with whole wheat pasta but am now gluten-free. One option is to use whole wheat lasagna or brown rice lasagna (Jovial is the best) noodles cooked and trimmed to 6″- 6 ½″. Place ¼ 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. Another option it to use the filling in manicotti shells, which come in gluten-free.
- 16 jumbo pasta shells
- 1 bunch Tuscan kale center ribs trimmed out
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup finely chopped onion
- 2 large garlic cloves finely chopped
- 15 ounces Ricotta cheese
- ¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese divided use
- 1 large egg
- ¼ cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian blend herbs or dried basil
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg optional
- 4 cups homemade tomato sauce or your favorite jarred brand
- Cook the pasta shells and the kale: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt. Cook the pasta shells according to package directions. Remove the cooked shells to a clean kitchen towel. Bring water back to a boil and add the kale leaves. Cook (blanch) for three minutes. Remove the leaves to a bowl of ice water. When the kale is cold, drain, squeeze dry in paper towels. A salad spinner can help get rid of excess moisture to start, then squeeze dry in paper towels. Chop the kale into small pieces and set aside.
- Make the filling: In a medium skillet or saute pan, heat olive oil. Add onion and cook (saute) until its soft and transparent. Add the garlic and cook another 60 seconds. Add the chopped kale. Place in a medium bowl and mix in ricotta and ½ cup of the Parmesan, egg and herbs and seasonings until smooth.
- Fill shells and bake: Place about a 1 cup of the tomato sauce in a 9×13 casserole dish. Place about two tablespoons of filling in each shell. For reference, see the photo in the post. You want the shells to be full but not bursting. Place filled shells on top of the sauce. Top the shells with the rest of the sauce. Sprinkle with the last quarter cup of the Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.