The fresh spinach that was in the fridge needed to be cooked as it was losing it's crispness. I was going to freeze it for another time, but was inspired by a recipe in Deb Perelman's book 'The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook'. The recipe was for stuffed jumbo pasta shells, a kind of warm artichoke dip in pasta.
I used the idea and enlarged on it by using the cooked spinach, and the goat cheese that was in the fridge. It was easy to put together, and some of the steps can be made ahead. The dish was pretty rich, but the tanginess of the goat cheese and the acidity of the artichoke hearts cut through the creaminess of the sauce. It was absolutely delicious, and my daughter has already asked when we're having it again!
I wilted the washed fresh spinach in a large, dry pan, allowing the water than was left on the leaves to help steam it. Allowing it to cool in a strainer also allows some of the excess moisture to drain out. The rest can be squeezed out. Roughly chop the spinach and set aside.
To make the filling, dice and cook:
1/2 medium onion
Cook until the onion is soft and starting to colour.
Drain and chop:
1 can of artichoke hearts.
Add them to the onion, along with:
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
Cook the artichokes and onions for a couple of minutes. Add 1/4 cup of white wine (I still had a little bit of that Chardonnay to finish up). Cook, stirring often, until the wine has all reduced away. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
In a large bowl, combine the following:
1 cup chopped, cooked spinach
1/2 cup soft goat cheese
1/2 cup cream cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Add the cooked onions and artichokes to the cheese mixture. Mix well to combine.
Taste and adjust seasoning. Set aside until needed.
In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook:
16 jumbo pasta shells.
When they are slightly underdone, drain and rinse under cold water to stop them from overcooking. This also makes them easier to handle while stuffing!
In a heavy bottomed pan, melt:
1/4 cup of butter
1/4 cup of flour
Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring.
Gradually whisk in:
2 cups milk
Continue to whisk until the sauce begins to boil. Allow it to boil for about a minute.
Remove from the heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Whisk 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese into the sauce.
Heat the oven to 350F.
Spread 2/3 of the sauce onto the bottom of an oven proof dish.
Sprinkle with a bit of grated Parmesan.
Using a spoon, stuff the filling into the cooked pasta shells. Lay the shells on top of the sauce.
Drizzle the remaining sauce over the top of the shells.
Sprinkle with grated cheese. I used Parmesan and Asiago.
Bake until the filling is heated through, the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is golden. This took about 30 - 40 minutes.
- Jumbo pasta shells can be difficult to find sometimes, so cannelloni can be used instead. The filling could also be alternated with the sauce and lasagne noodles to make a vegetarian lasagne.
- If you have other fresh herbs, use them. Basil would be really nice, as would thyme.
- The ratio of cream cheese to goat cheese can be played around with to suit your taste. If you use more, or only, cream cheese consider adding some lemon juice to the filling. This will cut some of the richness, the way the goat cheese does.
- The filling and sauce can be made ahead, and the pasta can also be cooked ahead. The whole dish can be assembled ahead of time too; keep refrigerated. It can also be frozen once it is assembled.
- Other vegetables can be added...cooked kale, sundried tomatoes, olives or red peppers.
- The filling can be used as a warm dip by putting it into an ovenproof dish and baking it until it is hot and bubbly. Serve with crusty bread or crackers.