Sep 26
2011

Baked Pasta Shells with Beef, Sundried Tomatoes & Spinach Recipe

Baked Pasta Shells with Beef, Sundried Tomatoes & Spinach Recipe

I had a bit of an unpleasant surprise last week. Being a food blogger means that I’m constantly thinking about new recipes and typically experiment with a wide variety of seasonal ingredients. As they teach my kids in school, I try to “eat the rainbow”. Eating a wide variety of colors, such as red, orange and green vegetables, helps to insure that you are getting the proper nutrients. This baked pasta recipe, with tomatoes and spinach, definitely covers part of the rainbow. (It is a take on Turkey Cannelloni with Roasted Red Peppers & Spinach.) So why the heck was one of my favorite food apps screaming at me to balance my diet?

Recently, a friend introduced me to the app myfitnesspal, which can be accessed via your computer, phone or iPad (it automatically synchs between these devices, too). Typically, I don’t enjoy tracking everything I eat, but I was curious to see if I was on target for the nutrients I was supposed to be eating. Let me tell you, this app is pretty darn cool (and free!). It houses thousands of different foods and brands, as well as cardio and strength exercises. If the food you are eating has a barcode, simply scan it on your phone and all of the information will be saved in your profile. Is there a recipe you love to make but have no idea about the nutritional content? Just enter the ingredients and myfitnesspal will figure it out for you.

After logging my meals and snacks for about a week, a couple of things happened. First, I became much more aware of the mindless eating I was doing. You know what I’m talking about – standing at the kitchen counter, snacking on cheese and crackers (and more cheese and crackers) or chips or cookies (whatever you vice may be). Before you know it, you’ve eaten a meal’s worth of junk and can’t even remember doing it. Now I’m determined to be much more mindful of what I’m eating and in what proportions. I’m not talking about depriving myself. I’m talking about being smart. Because you know what? It’s really not necessary to eat plough through 10 crackers and as many pieces of cheese in one sitting. Which, of course, I knew before but chose to ignore. Let’s call it denial.

The second thing I discovered was that I am sadly short on iron. According to the nutrients tracker, I am consuming about half the amount of iron that I need. Not good. We don’t eat a lot of red meat, which is known to be a great source of iron. However, you don’t need to turn into a carnivore of caveman proportions to increase your iron intake. After doing a little surfing around the web, I discovered that I can eat more dark leafy greens, dried fruits and lentils to get more iron. Also, eating foods rich in Vitamin C helps the body to absorb iron. That’s what this recipe is all about. Ground beef (I chose a lean version) and spinach are rich in iron, while the tomatoes are a good source of Vitamin C.

On top of using ground beef, I attempted to lower the saturated fat content of this recipe by replacing ricotta cheese with pureed low-fat cottage cheese. The texture is smooth and creamy, the taste is subtle and cottage cheese packs a punch of protein.

Now that I’m on the path to righting my wrongs, am I done with myfitnesspal? Heck no. This app is too much fun. Now I kind of get a kick out of tracking my food and exercise, and seeing my progress. It’s like a video game for a food-obsessed forty-year old woman.

The recipe:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta shells and cook until just tender. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Baked Shells Beef 3

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

For the filling, heat olive oil in a large frying pan set over medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute for additional 30 seconds.

Baked Shells Beef 1

Turn up the heat to medium-high. Add the ground beef and cook, breaking up with wooden spoon, until beef is cooked through. Put a lid on top (slightly askew) and pour any accumulated juice out of the pan.

Transfer ground beef mixture to a large bowl. Stir in spinach and sundried tomatoes until combined.

Baked Shells Beef 2

Place the cottage cheese in the bowl of a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.

Allow the beef mixture to cool, then stir in cottage cheese, dried chile flakes and basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Fill each shell with 2 tablespoons of the beef mixture.

Baked Shells Beef 4

Prepare a 9- by 13-inch baking pan by spreading 1 cup tomato sauce on the bottom. Arrange pasta shells, opening-side up, in the pan. Spread additional 2 cups tomato sauce on top, and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for additional 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Baked Shells Beef LS2

Other baked pasta dishes:
Cookin’ Canuck’s Turkey Cannelloni with Roasted Peppers & Spinach
Baked Bree’s Easy Baked Pasta
A Thought for Food’s Easiest Baked Mac & Cheese
My Colombian Recipes’ Baked Pasta with Roasted Vegetables

Baked Shells with Beef, Sundried Tomatoes & Spinach Recipe

Yield: Serves 4 to 6 (about 24 shells total)

Baked Shells with Beef, Sundried Tomatoes & Spinach Recipe

From the kitchen of Cookin Canuck. www.cookincanuck.com

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. large pasta shells
  • Filling:
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 1/2 cups (packed) roughly chopped fresh spinach
  • 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
  • 12 oz. low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1/2 tsp dried chile flakes
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt (to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 3/4 cups tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta shells and cook until just tender.
  2. For the filling, heat olive oil in a large frying pan set over medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute for additional 30 seconds.
  3. Turn up the heat to medium-high. Add the ground beef and cook, breaking up with wooden spoon, until beef is cooked through. Put a lid on top (slightly askew) and pour any accumulated juice out of the pan. Transfer ground beef mixture to a large bowl.
  4. Stir in spinach and sundried tomatoes until combined.
  5. Place the cottage cheese in the bowl of a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.
  6. Allow the beef mixture to cool, then stir in cottage cheese, dried chile flakes and basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Fill each shell with 2 tablespoons of the beef mixture.
  8. Prepare a 9- by 13-inch baking pan by spreading 1 cup tomato sauce on the bottom. Arrange pasta shells, opening-side up, in the pan. Spread additional 2 cups tomato sauce on top, and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.
  9. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for additional 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

By the way, I wrote about myfitnesspal on my own accord. The geniuses behind this app have no idea that my blog or I even exist.

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{ 60 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Blog is the New Black September 26, 2011 at 6:41 am

Stuffed shells scream “fall is here!” Need to make these! The flavors sound amazing.

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2 Dara (Cookin' Canuck) September 26, 2011 at 7:32 am

You’re right, they make a great fall dinner.

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3 Kathryn September 26, 2011 at 6:46 am

Delicious! I love making baked pasta shells but I usually make them vegetarian and my boyfriend complains about the lack of meat. This looks like a great alternative!

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4 Dara (Cookin' Canuck) September 26, 2011 at 7:33 am

I really enjoy vegetarian versions but am glad to have a healthy meat version on hand, too. These could also be made with ground turkey meat.

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5 Barbara @ Barbara Bakes September 26, 2011 at 6:51 am

I love stuffed shells. Sound like a great way to get more iron. I’ll have to check out that app.

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6 Dara (Cookin' Canuck) September 26, 2011 at 7:33 am

Be careful, that app can be addictive!

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7 Sharon September 26, 2011 at 6:57 am

Love baked shells and love that you made them healthier! They still look just as yummy as a regular version. I should check out the app, I don’t eat red meat so would benefit from learning if I am getting enough iron. Thanks for sharing.

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8 Dara (Cookin' Canuck) September 26, 2011 at 7:34 am

Sharon, it was a surprise to me to see how low I was on iron. It’s always good to have a reminder.

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9 MikeVFMK September 26, 2011 at 8:05 am

Dara, this pasta looks ah-mazing! Seriously. This is exactly the kind of meal I’ll have over the next few months. It’s comforting, hot and delicious. Love the little stuffed pasta shells!

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10 Dara (Cookin' Canuck) September 26, 2011 at 10:57 am

Thanks, Mike. This is the kind of meal that I crave when the weather turns colder.

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11 JulieD September 26, 2011 at 8:10 am

I haven’t made baked pasta (stuffed) shells in forever. I love that this has sundried tomatoes and spinach. This will be going on our menu soon!

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12 Dara (Cookin' Canuck) September 26, 2011 at 10:57 am

Thanks, Julie. It will definitely be a regular on our dinner rotation this fall and winter.

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13 Chef Dennis September 26, 2011 at 8:12 am

I’ve never stuffed my own shells, and you’ve got me wanting to try this recipe! Those shells look positively delicious! Were getting into the perfect weather for comfort food, and your shells certainly are comfort food!

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14 Dara (Cookin' Canuck) September 26, 2011 at 10:58 am

Dennis, stuffing your own shells can actually be really fun and it couldn’t be easier.

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15 Lauren from Lauren's Latest September 26, 2011 at 8:32 am

I use that app too! I love it when I know I’ve eaten healthy, but I hate it when I’ve indulged a little too much! Ha!

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16 Dara (Cookin' Canuck) September 26, 2011 at 10:58 am

I hear you, Lauren, though I try to remember that tomorrow is a new day and I can make up for it then. A little overindulgence at times just has to happen.

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17 Pretend Chef September 26, 2011 at 8:34 am

I have never made a baked pasta dish. This is a great recipe for changing that. The flavors in this dish sound amazing. I can’t wait to try this sometime. This screams comfort food. I wrote down the app’s name so I can check it out soon. I calorie count and do a food journal but the program I use doesn’t really break down anything other than calories, fat, carbs, and protein. Thank you for the review.

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18 Dara (Cookin' Canuck) September 26, 2011 at 10:59 am

I definitely recommend checking out this app. It can give you basic information or more detailed breakdowns, depending on what you want.

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19 Heather at Heathers Dish September 26, 2011 at 9:12 am

Shells are so much fun to eat…I love the fun flavor twist in this version :)

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20 Dara (Cookin' Canuck) September 26, 2011 at 11:00 am

Thanks, Heather. It was one of those meals that mostly used ingredients in my fridge and pantry.

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21 Belinda @zomppa September 26, 2011 at 9:24 am

I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing if I tracked. I haven’t had stuffed shells forever!

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22 Dara (Cookin' Canuck) September 26, 2011 at 11:00 am

Belinda, tracking isn’t for everyone, but it certainly is a good reminder every now and then so you can stay on track with fueling your body.

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23 Emily September 26, 2011 at 9:24 am

This sounds so good! I love stuffed shells but like you I don’t eat much beef so I never thought to use it as a filling. And I love the use of sundried tomatoes, I have a jar of them in my fridge that needs to be used up.

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24 Bev Weidner September 26, 2011 at 9:50 am

Is there room in that baking dish for me to snuggle? I promise to shower first.

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25 Superfood Sisters September 26, 2011 at 11:39 am

Thank you for sharing this! I grew up with my mom making stuffed shells, but never really made them for my family. This looks like a healthy version that I will defiantly try for my family. Thanks again!!

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26 Barbara | Creative Culinary September 26, 2011 at 11:44 am

First, hunting for that app now…so thanks for that. Second…well, these look terrific but I feel somehow lacking saying that…everything you do looks terrific! Scrumptialicious! Better?

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27 Jerry Ko | Simply Good Eating September 26, 2011 at 12:07 pm

This meal is great for the fall since the temperature is winding down. I love the combination of using beef, spinach and sun dried tomatoes. I personally feel that it is hard to go wrong with that combo. Thanks for sharing this delicious post :)

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28 Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen September 26, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Mmm, stuffed shells are a comfort food favorite! I’ve got to check out that app too, thanks Dara!

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29 Kathy - Panini Happy September 26, 2011 at 12:39 pm

I’m going to download this app now – I won’t be surprised if I’m not covering all of my nutrient bases. I make such an effort to ensure the kids eat balanced and healthy but it all falls apart when it comes to my diet!

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30 Lora @cakeduchess September 26, 2011 at 1:18 pm

This app is super. I am downloading it now b/c I could use this for all of us here. Your shells look fantastic. I usually add greens to my pasta dishes…a great way to sneak them in:) Hope you’re having a great beginning of your week. xx

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31 Sommer@ASpicyPerspective September 26, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Holy Yum, Dara! I wish I had the ingredients to make stuffed shells tonight. Luckily I’m headed to the store in the morning.

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32 Katherine Martinelli September 26, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Yum. Baked shells are totally comfort food for me and this looks great. Thanks for the app rec! I’m downloading it now – and it’s free! Even better. Looking forward to playing around with this.

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33 Carolinaheartstrings September 26, 2011 at 7:22 pm

I have not made shells in years. This recipe looks fantastic. I cannot wait to give it a try.

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34 Curt September 26, 2011 at 8:25 pm

What a delicious looking dish. That’s a lot of flavor stuffed into those shells!

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35 Kristen September 26, 2011 at 9:17 pm

We always love stuffed shells but I never think to make them. Great recipe. Now, I’m off to check out that app!

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36 Krista {Budget Gourmet Mom} September 26, 2011 at 10:15 pm

It’s been so long since I made stuffed pasta. We love it! I also LOVE myfitnesspal! I can’t believe how easy it is…now if only I would be more diligent!

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37 Nancy@acommunaltable September 26, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Hi Dara!! Saw a tweet about this and of course had to “waddle” right over (think I need that app RIGHT NOW!) . I personally love stuffed shells but has never been a favorite with my crew – but this recipe sounds like a game changer for them!!!

So glad that the app is helping you and I will definitely be checking it out. As to iron, you are not alone, most people aren’t getting sufficient amounts – great tips about eating leafy greens and that Vitamin C helps absorption!!!

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38 Miriam @ Overtime Cook September 26, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Looks delicious! I love stuffed shells- I think I will add spinach next time I make it!

-Miriam

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39 Katrina September 27, 2011 at 4:28 am

Pasta shells are such a fun way of making pasta. This sounds delightful!

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40 Chris @ TheKeenanCookBook September 27, 2011 at 6:35 am

We’ll have to check that app out. Is it paid or free?
We do a lot of mindless noshing on the weekends, especially when visiting with family. Self control is so hard when it comes to food. Sigh. Heheh

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41 Dara (Cookin' Canuck) September 27, 2011 at 11:32 am

Chris, I am definitely guilty of mindless noshing – far too often. I forgot to mention that this app is free – you can’t beat that!

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42 Lana @ Never Enough Thyme September 27, 2011 at 7:36 am

We love stuffed shells but I can’t even begin to remember the last time I did them at home. Thanks for reminding me and for a healthy recipe for them.

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43 Rachel @ Not Rachael Ray September 27, 2011 at 9:58 am

These look really great. Bookmarking!

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44 Feast on the Cheap September 27, 2011 at 10:17 am

Oh man…I wish I had these waiting for me right now. Starving! They look amazing.

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45 Liz September 27, 2011 at 10:57 am

Beautiful, Dara!!! My hubby doesn’t like the spinach/ricotta stuffed shells I make, but I know he’d love your meat filled beauties. Thanks for sharing~

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46 Kiran @ KiranTarun.com September 27, 2011 at 2:01 pm

I’ve never tried baked pasta shells before. This looks so delicious and healthy.

About iron, I am sure I have the same symptoms as well. Thanks for the reminder. Must check out the app. Stat :)

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47 The Newlywed Chefs September 28, 2011 at 4:26 am

This dish looks so warm and comforting! Thanks for sharing :)

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48 Jeanette September 28, 2011 at 5:55 am

Love this healthier version of stuffed shells – spinach is a great add!

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49 Amanda September 28, 2011 at 7:14 am

Beautiful recipe… I think I am short on iron too. Now I have a medical reason to make this tonight. ;)

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50 Marla September 28, 2011 at 10:22 am

You had me at sun dried tomatoes! Love the pasta…hey check out Buffalo meat. Super high in iron, lean and crazy tasty too :)

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51 Dara (Cookin' Canuck) September 28, 2011 at 12:51 pm

I always forget about buffalo meat, but will have to buy some the next time I’m at the grocery store. Thanks for the tip, my healthy friend!

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52 Wenderly September 28, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Oh my goodness do those filled shells look scrumptious. And mindless eating?? *guilty* I need to s-t-o-p the madness. This meal sounds like the perfect way to start!

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53 Carolyn September 28, 2011 at 2:25 pm

These look delicious, Dara. I am pretty sure that any nutrition app would be screaming at me…being low carb means I eat a lot of high fat things. But there is a school of thought out there that is coming to accept my way of eating as the healthy way. Who knows?

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54 Kita September 29, 2011 at 8:00 am

I just made stuffed shells last week – but looking at these I could already go for another batch. There is something so simple, warm and comforting about them. I am not one to talk about nutrition – as I have no idea – but I think healthy and homemade go a looong way.

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55 Alison @ Ingredients, Inc. September 29, 2011 at 2:44 pm

I can’t wait to make this. My kids would love it!

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56 Kelsey @ K&K Test Kitchen September 29, 2011 at 8:07 pm

This sounds delicious Dara! I used to love eating stuffed shells as a kid, but for some reason I’ve never made them myself. I will definitely have to try these though.

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57 Kevin (Closet Cooking) October 25, 2011 at 7:12 pm

These are some really tasty sounding stuffed pasta shells!

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58 Samantha March 28, 2012 at 11:43 am

You are seriously my new favorite site. I love everything you have posted and congrats on your new healthy lifestyle. I am so excited to try some, if not all, of your recipes at some point in my own
kitchen . Everything looks amazing. Thanks for your hard work and dedication.

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59 Sharon September 17, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Hi. I was wondering if you can freeze this? I’m thinking of making this for kids lunch to take to school. Thanx.

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60 Dara (Cookin' Canuck) September 17, 2013 at 8:49 pm

Sharon, I have frozen these. Instead of baking, I cover the baking dish very well with plastic wrap and foil, then freeze. I defrost on the counter or in the fridge before baking. I’d imagine that you could also bake when they’re in the frozen state, but you’ll have to add a significant amount of baking time.

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