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Microwave Tricks: Make-Ahead Stuffed Shells

Stuffed shells in the microwave

Stuffed shells (shown here with plastic wrap for the fridge) cook up really quickly and easily in a microwave

This was the second try at a quick supper while juggling too many other things at once. The first half box of pasta shells I cooked in the microwave as I usually do but they ended up staying in the water much too long while I was busy elsewhere (lecturing my kid about waltzing out of the house without letting us know–Oy! I thought we had this down by now, but 10 is 10, with a lot of eye-rolling and forgetfulness and sudden impatience for all the ordinary rules).

When I returned to the kitchen, the bowl of shells had long since cooked, softened, soaked and turned to pasty shell-shaped mush–too far gone to rescue. Bleagghhh…I threw them out and started over. Luckily, a microwave cuts the time it costs to boil the water for a new batch, and I’d already made the stuffing and had some tomato sauce ready. This time, I decided to pay attention, and it came out fine.

If you have fewer distractions or better time sense than I do so you can catch your pasta before it falls apart, you can put together a number of good filled pasta casseroles like this one all (or at least mostly) by using your microwave, and they might take less than half an hour from start to finish. Two other examples–the very similar spinach lasagne I make with eggroll wrappers (same spinach/ricotta/feta filling, same microwave marinara but don’t cook the eggroll wrappers before layering them, and use two wrappers at a time, since they’re so thin), or even butternut squash or sweet potato ravioli with wonton or gyoza wrappers and a mozzarella-based cheese sauce. Once the shells are cooked al dente (still a little chewy, but not hard), the dish goes together in about 5 minutes and cooks just to heat it through.

Stuffed Shells in the Microwave

  • 1/2 lb or so dried large pasta shells for stuffing (about 20 shells or 1/2 box)
  • 1 recipe Microwave Marinara or about 1 c. of your preferred tomato sauce
  • pinches of fennel seed, dried or fresh thyme or oregano, and/or hot pepper flakes
  • shredded mozzarella for topping (optional)

Filling:

  • 2 c. low-fat or skim ricotta
  • 2 oz. or so crumbled feta
  • 1/2 lb defrosted/cooked spinach
  • 1/4 onion
  • 1 fat clove garlic, grated, minced or mashed
  • a few leaves shredded basil and/or thyme or marjoram
  • pinch or grating of nutmeg
  • 6-8 microwave-marinated artichoke hearts, optional

Put the shells in a big pyrex mixing bowl (2.5 qt or liter), fill with water to about 2 inches above the shells, cover with a microwaveable plate and microwave on HIGH about 9 minutes, or until the water is bubbling but not boiling over. Leave the shells in the microwave another 5 minutes to absorb and check for doneness–you may need another 2 minutes or so. When they’re just cooked through but still firm, drain them gently so they don’t tear apart.

In the bottom of a microwaveable casserole (in my case, a pyrex deep dish pie plate), spoon about 1/4 c. tomato sauce and spread it around. Sprinkle on the fennel seed, oregano and/or hot pepper flakes if using, or just mix them into the sauce before you start.

Mix all the filling ingredients together by hand. Stuff each shell with a soup spoonful of the filling and set it in the casserole–you can fit about 20 stuffed shells into a deep dish pie plate, maybe more if you pack them tighter than I did. Carefully spoon the rest of the sauce between the shells and if it seems too dry on top or your shells are parcooked and kind of stiff, drizzle a few spoonfuls of water, maybe 1/4 c. total, on the sauce but not on the shells themselves. If you’re using mozzarella to top the shells, sprinkle it on now and add a pinch of oregano if you like it. Cover the casserole with a microwaveable plate or lid and microwave 7-8 minutes on HIGH or until heated through. The cheese should be melted on top and the shells should be tender.

You can reheat the casserole the next day very easily–check to see if it feels dried out at all, and drizzle in a tiny amount of water (spoonful or so) if it does, then cover with a microwaveable plate and heat for 5 minutes on HIGH.

DIABETIC/CARB COUNT NOTES:

Barilla says their shells are 37 grams of carbohydrate per 5 shells, or about 7 grams apiece. Ricotta has about 3-4 g. carb per 1/4 c. serving (about 2-3 shells’ worth), so for 5 shells maybe 5-7 g. carb. If you use my microwave marinara, it has just tomatoes and a bit of onion, none of the commercial added sugars or starch thickeners, so negligible carb count per serving.

Total: about 45 g. per 5 shells, or about 8-9 g/shell.

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