Tuesday, June 20, 2006

And a Baby Makes Three!

This year I officially entered the late-20-something club. For the most part, it's not at all a bad place to be. I'm more comfortable then I ever have been in my own skin and am increasingly aware of what makes me content (mostly cooking - for other people). Though my own maturation process (sounds so much better than aging, right?) this year has been marked by self-discovery, for friends that process has been celebrated in more traditional ways; weddings and babies. Three of my closest girlfriends in CA are going to (or have) tied the knot this year (congratulations to Lucy, Adrienne and Kristie!) and two of my close co-workers have had babies already this year (welcome to little Adrian and Elena). So, what is this single late-20 something to do in the face of this baby boom? Shower the exhausted new parents with easy-to-cook food, of course!
A little over a year ago, Cooking Light ran an article about main course one-pot meals that could be made in double batches, frozen and then easily cooked right out of the freezer... that sounded like a perfect way to help out... A little digging through Josh and Jennifer's Cooking Light recipe files turned up the following recipe. I've had it before and was surprised how something so simple could be so hearty and satisfying. I guess it's not great summer food, but I have gotten rave reviews from the new parents who were just glad to not have to think about what to cook for dinner while trying to balance work and the new baby.

Four Cheese Stuffed Shells with Spicy Marinara (adapted from Cooking Light)

1 lb. jumbo shell pasta (40 shells)
Cooking spray
1 (12 oz.) carton low-fat cottage cheese
1 (15 oz.) carton ricotta cheese
1 c. (4 oz.) shredded asiago cheese
3/4 c. (3 oz.) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
2 T. chopped fresh chives
2 T. chopped fresh parsley
1/4 t. black pepper
1/4 t. salt
1 10 oz. box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
6 c. Smoky Marinara (recipe to follow)
1 c. (4 oz.) shredded part-skim mozzerella

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and set aside.
If cooking that night, preheat the oven to 375F. Coat 2 (13x9 inch) baking dishes with cooking spray and set aside.
Blend the cottage and ricotta cheeses together in a medium mixing bowl (Cooking Light says to use a food processor, I used a handheld electric mixer, and it got the job done). Add the next six ingredients (Asiago through spinach) and fold into cheese mixture until well blended. Spoon or pipe approximately 1T cheese mix into each shell (this was awesome - the first time I used the "snip the corner off of a plastic bag" method of piping - definately messy fun).

Also, I had more than enough cheese mixture, so don't be frugal with the stuffing. Arrange half the stuffed shells in one of the baking dishes (seam-side down) and top with 3 c. of Smoky Marinara and sprinkle with 1/2 c. shredded mozzerella. Repeat with other half of shells in second pan.
To cook right away, cover with foil and cook at 375F for 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated through.
**this is the best part of the recipe** You can freeze the casserole unbaked for future use (by new parents) and then all they have to do is stick it right in the oven - no pre-cooking or defrosting necessary!!
To freeze unbaked casserole: Prepare all the way - without the baking part - and wrap the container first with plastic wrap (removing as much air as possible) and then with foil. This will store in the freezer for up to two months.
To bake the frozen casserole: Preheat oven to 375F. Remove and reserve foil. Remove and discard plastic wrap. Cover with reserved foil and bake for 1 - 1 1/2 hours until heated through thoroughly (no need to defrost before putting in the oven).

Smoky Marinara

1 T. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. chopped basil
2 T. chopped fresh parsley
2 T. chopped fresh oregano (or 2 t. dried, crushed oregano)
2 t. balsamic vinegar
1/4 t. black pepper
1/8 t. salt
1 (28 oz) can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes, undrained

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic, basil, parsley and oregano; saute one minute, stirring frequently. Stir in vinegar and remaining ingredients. Reduce heat and simmer at least 10 additional minutes (can leave simmering while putting together rest of shells, but will reduce a bit).

It's easy, tasty, all in one dish and you can even take a nap while it's heating up!


1 comment:

michelle said...

Lissa, there's nothing wrong with being in your late 20s!! All of my friends are getting married and having babies too - even my little sister, who is 6 YEARS younger than I am is getting married in October! And anyway, I'm convinced everyone should have a healthy does of self-discovery BEFORE they get married - in their 30s! I'm sure your friends were very thankful for your kindness!