Tonight I cooked my very first intentionally vegetarian meal. I say intentionally because in the financially slim years post-college, my roommates and I were occasionally unintentionally vegetarian because we couldn't afford meat. Happily tonight's dinner was meat-free by choice!
This meal is packed with veggies, non-fat and low-fat cheeses and even tofu to amp up the protein. I was thrilled with the flavor of the dish and will definitely be using the sauce in other pasta dishes.
Cheesy Vegetarian Stuffed Shells
Ingredients for Sauce
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1/2 cup grated carrot
- 1/2 cup grated zucchini or yellow squash
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1 small onion chopped finely
- 3 minced cloves of garlic
- 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
- 14 oz. can of tomato paste
- salt and pepper to taste
Ingredients for Shells
- 12 oz. box of jumbo shells (use whole grain if you can find them!)
- 8 oz. silken tofu (firm)
- 10 oz. frozen chopped spinach (thawed and drained/squeezed dry)
- 1 1/2 cups fat free ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 and 1/2 cups grated mozzarella
- 1 tbsp. garlic powder
- 1 egg (beaten)
- salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
2. Make the sauce: Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add carrot, zucchini, onion and celery - saute until tender but not browned. Then add garlic and cook for about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Add tomatoes, paste, basil, oregano, salt, pepper and 2 cups of water. Bring sauce to boil, then reduce to a simmer for 15-20 minutes to thicken and intensify the flavors.
5. Meanwhile, prepare the shells: Add shells to boiling water and add a dash of olive oil to prevent sticking. Boil for 8-10 minutes until just cooked and still firm. Drain and set aside to cool (I didn't have time for this step and used barbecue tongs to hold my too-hot shells open so I could stuff them...too bad I didn't get pictures of THAT!)
6. Mix tofu, spinach, ricotta cheese, parmesean cheese, 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese, egg and garlic powder in medium bowl. Once combined, season with salt and pepper.
7. Spray a 13x9 pan (I used a glass pyrex pan) with cooking spray, then coat bottom thoroughly with a thick layer of sauce.
8. Stuff the cheese/tofu mixture into the shells and place them on top of the sauce open side up.
9. Spread remaining sauce over the top of the shells, cover tightly with aluminum foil and pop in the oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove from oven and top with remaining mozzarella cheese, then cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
I served this with Italian bread and garden salad...it was a definitely hit at our dinner table!