Every year, long before the holidays approach, I picture endless hours of leisurely family fun. Yet I’m somehow always surprised that our holiday season seems at least as rushed and over-scheduled as it is relaxing.
This Baked Stuffed Pasta recipe is the hero of this tale, because it’s elegant and impressive, yet deceptively easy to prepare on a very busy day. It’s perfect for a holiday celebration, when time is scarce, expectations high, and a few shortcuts welcome. With just five ingredients, each one can be prepared in advance.
Instead of cheese, these pasta shells are stuffed with a delicious and creamy mashed potato and spinach filling. Smothered in a zesty red sauce, the shells are then oven-baked until piping hot.
I like to prepare a large batch of spicy marinara well ahead of time, adding grilled bell peppers, zucchini, and sweet onions. I blend the sauce until almost smooth, and stash away extras in the freezer. For convenience, or in a pinch, you can use a favorite store-bought sauce.
Double this recipe if needed, depending on the size of your gathering and the other dishes you’ll be serving. Add a colorful salad, roasted seasonal vegetables, and loaf of warm whole-grain bread, for a beautifully simple holiday meal.
Pasta is generally a crowd pleaser, but this recipe elevates ordinary ingredients into a dish worthy of special occasions. Regardless of the traditions you already enjoy, and whether your guests are vegan or not, Baked Stuffed Pasta is a wonderful addition to a holiday table.
This time of year, the meals we share with family and friends are the perfect time to count our blessings, as we provide nourishment to those we love. I feel blessed to be able to do that, and I’m sure you do too…
To all of you, I wish a joyous holiday season, and a happy and healthy vegan New Year!
BAKED STUFFED PASTA
Inspired by The McDougall Program for a Healthy Heart, by John McDougall, M.D.
1/2 box of jumbo pasta shells (approximately 20-24)
1 quart of homemade or store-bought marinara sauce
3 cups of mashed potatoes *
1 tablespoon of Italian seasoning
1 cup of fresh spinach, chopped or minced
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Have ready an ungreased 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
Cook the pasta until almost al dente. Drain, allow to cool slightly, and set aside. Do not overcook the pasta, since the cooking process will continue in the oven.
Place 2 cups of marinara sauce in the rectangular baking dish.
For the filling, add the Italian seasoning and spinach to the mashed potatoes. Combine well. (Taste to make sure potatoes are nicely seasoned.)
Stuff the shells one by one with potato mixture, and place side by side evenly in the baking dish. Drizzle the remaining sauce over the top. Cover with foil and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until hot and bubbling.
* To make the mashed potatoes:
Peel and chop 4 or 5 large potatoes. Place potatoes in a large pot of water, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and continue to simmer until tender. Drain the potatoes, and mash until creamy, with soy milk, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.