Stuffed Shells: from Aunt Joyce’s Recipe Box

When I asked my cousins which one of my Aunt Joyce’s recipes they’d like to see me blog, this was the hands-down winner. Everyone had their own special memory of her stuffed shells.  Well, everyone but me, since I never had the pleasure of eating them. I think she must have started making these regularly after I left home for college, I must not have been home when she happened to be cooking these up. So, this recipe was kind of a challenge. Here’s her handwritten recipe.

All the ingredients are there, but it is a little short on details. And since I’d never had the pleasure of eating the recipe, I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to look like. Please bear with me while I work my way through the recipe.

Here’s what you’ll need to make it.

1 lb box of jumbo pasta shells
2 jars of spaghetti sauce (or make homemade. I didn’t this time, to stick with the recipe.)
1lb ground beef (I used meatloaf mix. You could also use ground chuck or ground turkey.)
1 small onion (diced)
2 eggs
1 15 ounce tub ricotta
8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 12 ounce package frozen spinach (thawed with all water squeezed out)
5 Tablespoons of parsley (I used chopped fresh. Joyce would probably have used dried.)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Start by boiling a large pot of salted water. You’ll need a big pot. If you don’t have one, you may need to do the shells in two batches.

You make the meat and cheese filling separately.  We’ll start by making the meat filling. Make sure the spinach is thawed and every drop of water is squeezed out of it. I would salt and pepper the spinach. Joyce would not. Beat the eggs.

Put a tablespoon of oil in a skillet. When it is shimmering, add the onions and a sprinkle of salt. Cook onions until they soften. Then add garlic powder and cook for 10 seconds more.
Then add the ground meat and parsley. I also like to add a little splash of beef broth to keep the meat tender and to stop it from browning too fast.
Once the meat has browned, let it cool for a few minutes. Then put it in a bowl with 4 ounces of mozzarella, 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, and one beaten egg. Give it a sprinkle of salt and pepper and mix it together.
Now, let’s move on to the cheese filling. Combine the ricotta, 4 ounces of mozzarella, one beaten egg, 2 tablespoons of parmesan, 2 tablespoons of parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, the melted butter and salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.
Once the shells are tender, drain them and lay them out on baking sheets lined with paper towels.
Make sure to separate the shells carefully. My package of shells made 34 shells.
Here’s where it got interesting. The recipe doesn’t say how many pans it makes. It also doesn’t say if the meat and the cheese go in the shells together or you stuff them separately. I decided to alternate stuffing them with meat or with cheese. I also went with using two 13″ by 9″ pans. I might have been able to fit them all into one.
Start by covering the bottom of the pan or pans with spaghetti sauce. (If you’re using two 13 by 9 pans, you may want to go with three jars.)
It’s time to carefully stuff the shells. You don’t want to tear them. Here, I’m stuffing one with just meat.
Here I am adding the cheese.
Place the shells in the pan.
Cover with sauce. Then cover with foil and place in the oven. Or do like me. Put it in the oven, take a picture, then remember you forgot to put the foil on. Then take it back out and put the foil on. 🙂  Hey, I’m keeping it real here.
Bake for 45 minutes at 325 degrees.
Serve with garlic bread, because that’s what Joyce would have done.  These were absolutely delicious, but a lot of work. I’ll make them again, but next time with homemade spaghetti sauce with a lot of basil.

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