First things first, this is my 60th recipe on Mancktastic! It’s hard to believe I’ve shared that many recipes here on the bloggy, but it’s awesome too. I hope that you and your families enjoyed these recipes; I love sharing them with you!
And now, on to the milestone recipe! This dish holds a special place in my family’s house because it brought my mother and my sisters together.
When my parents got married, Mom suddenly gained 3 half-grown daughters ranging in age from 15-8, my half-sisters. Of course, they were a little suspicious of this new, young woman in my dad’s life, so Mom had to work a little to integrated herself into the family. I didn’t join the world until six years after all of this happened, but I grew up hearing stories about the trials and tribulations of their new, blended family. I’ll never really understand or appreciate the relationship my mother and my half-sisters have because, to me, my mommy has always been there and part of our family, but Mom had to work hard to be a Manck, apparently. She came from a more worldly and learned background, full of things the girls found weird and different.
I never really understood this struggle and relationship until I stayed with my oldest sister, Jennifer, the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college.
To earn my keep living with Jen and her family during an internship, I watched my awesome twin nephews and cooked dinner several nights a week. This was when I really learned the basic skills of cooking like browning ground beef and meal planning. One weekend, while plotting the week’s meals, I asked Jen what she’d like for dinner. She asked if I knew how to make stuffed shells. “Well, I’ve never made them before, but I could try”, I responded. “Do you really like them?” She told me she loved them, and they always reminded her of my mother.
Apparently, the girls had never had the dish until my mom made it for them for dinner one night. The wariness they’d had to her evaporated for just that one night as they enjoyed the saucy, cheesy shells as a family.
The shells didn’t magically make their relationship easy, but it showed my sisters that Mom was new but she (and the things she brought) didn’t have to be scary just because they were unfamiliar. Of course, I made Stuffed Shells for the family that week, and that story has stuck with me ever since. Now stuffed shells speak to me about family, new experiences, and love.
This version of Stuffed Shells feels particularly decadent because of the inclusion of cream cheese and Italian sausage in the shell filling. The cream cheese adds a smooth richness to the cheeses, while the delicious Italian sausage elevates this dish beyond your typical pasta dish. I was glad to share these with Bill last night and think about how big, and small, my family is now : )
Italian Sausage Stuffed Shells
- 8 ounces jumbo pasta shells
- 1 pound Italian sausage
- 1 cup fresh chopped spinach
- 1 cloves garlic, minced
- 8 ounces low-fat ricotta cheese
- 4 ounces low-fat cream cheese, softened
- ²/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 1 large egg
- ½ Tablespoon dried parsley flakes
- ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
- 26 ounces spaghetti sauce
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Cook shells according to package directions, drain and set aside.
- Cook Italian sausage, drain and set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine Italian sausage, spinach, garlic, ricotta, cream cheese, Parmesan, egg, seasonings and ½ cup mozzarella cheese. Spoon mixture into a large ziptop bag and snip off one corner.
- Spread half of spaghetti sauce into a 13″ x 9″ baking dish. Arrange shells over sauce, fill with the cheese and sausage mixture, then top with remaining sauce.
- Cover baking dish tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with remaining ½ cup mozzarella and bake for 5-10 minutes.
Based on a recipe from The Girl Who Ate Everything