If you’re at all familiar with the — ahem — fantastic city of Boston, you probably know about the North End. Our version of “Little Italy”, this bustling section of the city offers Boston’s best Italian cuisine. Bostonians and tourists alike have been known to brave frigid temperatures to stand in hour + lines for a seat at Giacomo’s or a spot at the counter at Mike’s Pastry. During the summer months, lines of hungry people snake down Hanover Street in both directions, making navigating the sidewalks nearly impossible.
The aforementioned restaurant Giacomo’s is easily my favorite of the North End eateries. With about 10 tables nestled into one tiny room, Giacomo’s doesn’t boast the most serene ambiance, but the food… ah, the food. Many ubiquitous Italian staples grace the menu, but I remain undyingly faithful to two sensationally special dishes: butternut squash ravioli with diced asparagus in a prosciutto mascarpone cheese cream sauce & pumpkin tortellini in a fresh sage mascarpone cheese sauce. Just conjuring up a mental image of the tender pasta, sweet & savory fillings, and silky mascarpone sauces makes my mouth water.
Although I fully enjoy these rich pasta dishes when we dine at Giacomo’s, I prefer to prepare lighter Italian cuisine when I cook at home. These stuffed shells are a basic Italian favorite, but man-oh-man are they tasty. I’ve revamped the typical recipe for stuffed shells by subbing in sautéed fresh spinach for thawed frozen spinach and 1% whipped cottage cheese for ricotta. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of trying this type of cottage cheese, I urge you to do so ASAP. With smaller curds and a thicker consistency than regular cottage cheese, the whipped version is pretty darn similar to ricotta cheese… minus all of the unnecessary fat.
If you find yourself with a hankering for traditional Italian food, come on up/down/over for a visit to the North End. You know I’d be more than happy to join you for a big plate of ravioli or tortellini. But if you’re craving a lightened version of an Italian classic, gather together the ingredients for these stuffed shells and in 45 minutes you’ll have a delicious homemade meal without having to wait in any lines.
- 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 cups tightly packed fresh baby spinach leaves
- 16 jumbo pasta shells
- 2 cups 1% whipped cottage cheese (1 16 oz container)
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp dried Italian seasoning blend
- 1 1/2 cups marinara sauce of choice, divided
- 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add in spinach and cooking, stirring, until wilted down. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
- Cook pasta shells until al dente, about 10 minutes (a few minutes less than called for on the package). Drain and set aside.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the sauteed spinach, whipped cottage cheese, beaten egg, grated Parmesan cheese, and seasonings. Mix well to combine.
- Spread 1/2 cup marinara sauce over the bottom of a baking dish.
- Spoon cottage cheese mixture evenly into the cooked pasta shells; place stuffed shells side-by-side in the baking dish. Spoon the remaining 1 cup marinara sauce over the stuffed shells, and top with the shredded mozzarella cheese.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the cheese is lightly browned and bubbly.