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Baked Pasta Shells with Spinach and Ricotta



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Baked Pasta Shells with
Spinach and Ricotta

Forever Summer

©Nigella Lawson, 2003, Hyperion

“I admit that stuffed pasta, swathed in tomato sauce and baked in the oven
doesn’t look summery, but the point is this: the tomato sauce that dresses
the pasta is light and fresh; the ricotta and spinach within it are lighter
and fresher still. It’s fiddly to make, I’ll grant you, but there is a calming,
ritualistic aspect to it that makes it strangely unflustering to put together
in anything but the most scorching summer heat. Besides, I like this best left
to sit for a while once it’s done its time in the oven, so that you eat it warm
rather than hot; strangely enough – given the amount of green stuff in it –
so do my children.
You can make this in advance – that’s to say, cook and stuff the pasta and sit
it in its sauce and leave it, covered in the refrigerator for a few hours, before
adding the final bit of Parmesan and baking it in the oven – which can make
life easier if you’ve got a huge tableful of people coming over later…”

Serves 8 – 10

1 clove garlic, minced
1 onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
48 ounces canned or bottled tomato puree
1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach (or one
10-ounce package frozen chopped
spinach, thawed and thoroughly
18 ounces (2 1/4 cups) ricotta
2 eggs, beaten
4 ounces Parmesan
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
1 pound large pasta shells

 Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In a very large saucepan, gently fry the garlic and onion in the oil for
about 5 – 10 minutes until translucent. Add the tomato purée and refill
the cans with water about three-quarters full, giving them a shake to
mop up any tomato. This will give you about 4 1/2 cups water. Add it
to the pan. Bring the sauce to the boil and then partially cover and
simmer for about 25 minutes.
Soak the fresh spinach in the sink to get rid of any mud, drain, and
then cook in just the water that’s still clinging to the leaves until it has
wilted down and cooked through, then drain well and chop roughly
(you can just go at it with scissors while it’s sitting in the colander.)
If you’re using frozen chopped spinach, make sure – once it’s
thawed – that you’ve pressed out every last bit or water; you can
also use frozen leaf spinach, and chop it yourself once it’s thawed
and drained.
Empty the ricotta into a bowl, add the eggs and then grate in about 3
ounces (6 tablespoons) of the Parmesan. Add the spinach when it is
cool, squeezing out (again) any excess water with your hands, then
stir everything together and season it well with the nutmeg and salt
and pepper.
Cook the pasta shells in a large pan of water, for about 5 minutes once
they have come back to the boil, then drain and leave them to get cool
enough for you to stuff them without burning your fingers. Tip the shells
into a dish, of approximately 15 x 13 inches, so that they lie in a single
layer, then fill each shell with a heaped teaspoon of the spinach and
ricotta filling. Ladle the tomato sauce over the pasta, and grate over
the remaining Parmesan.
Bake for about 20 – 30 minutes, by which time the pasta will be tender
and the light tomato sauce hot and bubbling. Remove from the oven
and let stand for a while to cool down slightly before serving.

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