Sunday, December 9, 2007

Quick and Dirty Dinners

There are times when one needs to just throw something together for dinner in order to get "other things" done. While this is all fine and good, I feel that it is essential that said dinner also has to be delicious and not at all in resemblance of the fast-food genre.

I am a firm believer that a small amount of time dedicated to prep work makes the Quick & Dirty dinner such a success. I'm also fond of having a well-packed freezer of items that make Q&D such a staple.

It is inevitable that at some point of an early acquaintance I will ask what a favorite food is. My exhusband's favorite food is stuffed shells. They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach; I say it's actually through his sternum.

Quick & Dirty Stuffed Shells

1 lb package large pasta shells, cooked just almost al-dente, drained, and set aside in cold water (they will cook a bit more when you bake them; you don't want mushy shells)

Filling ingredients:
2 lb part-skim ricotta cheese
2 large eggs (or 1 large egg and 1 egg white; or the equivalent egg-substitute product)
1 cup pulverized crumbs made from prepackaged Caesar-seasoned croutons
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp dried Italian-style seasoning blend (or 1/4 tsp each dried oregano and dried basil)
1/4 tsp garlic powder
optional: 1 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry, 1/2 lb italian sausage cooked, crumbled, and drained.
3 cups of your favorite tomato-based pasta sauce
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Freezing equipment: gallon-sized freezer bags, baking sheets lined with plastic wrap

Mix all of the filling ingredients until well-blended. Scoop a rounded tablespoon into each pasta shell and set the filled shells aside on the baking sheet. Once the sheet (s) are full, place the sheets in the freezer and freeze the shells until they are completely solidly frozen. Remove from baking sheets and place in the freezer bags.

Preheat oven to 400*F. Spray a shallow baking pan (8x8 for 2-4 servings; 9 x 13 for 6 servings) with cooking spray. Spread 1 cup sauce in the bottom of the pan, arrange shells in a single layer, then top with remaining sauce. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes for small pan; 40 minutes for a large pan. Remove foil and sprinkle with cheese; bake 15-20 additional minutes until cheese is melted and bubbling. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Serving size: 2-3 shells

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