Cheesey, Saucy Stuffed Pasta Shells

These shells are the perfect balance of pasta, meat, sauce, and cheese. Anyone you share these with, if you choose to be generous, will be hard pressed to say no to seconds (or thirds, or…). An added bonus: you can make them in advance and freeze them for a quick weeknight meal. Serve with garlic bread, and you’re a quintessential Italian.

Stuffed Pasta Shells

Serves: 4 (or 6 as a side)

Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats

You’ll need:

  • 1 box of giant pasta shells
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. oregano
  • 2 tsp. basil
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese (divided)
  • 1 jar marinara sauce (16 oz)

1. Prepare pasta according to packaging directions. My box gave me two cooking times: 1 to eat the shells right out of the pot, and one to prepare them for baking. Choose the “bake them” figure, or subtract two minutes from the “eat them” time.

2. Reserve 1/3 cup of your cooking water once they are done, and drain the shells. Set them aside to cool.

3. Cook your ground beef. Drain off any fat. Add to the pan your reserved pasta water, garlic powder, oregano, basil, parmesan, and 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese. Mix to combine.

4. Cover the bottom of a 9×13 inch glass pan with a thin layer of marinara sauce.

5. Fill each shell with a scoop of beef mixture, and lay it in the 9×13. Continue until all of the beef is used. Cover with remaining marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese.

6. If you’re going to freeze the shells for later, this is the point at which you would do so. If you’re not, cover with foil, bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove foil, bake for 3 more minutes, or until cheese gets a little brown.

7. Serve with garlic bread and a little more parmesan cheese–if that’s your thing.

To cook from frozen: allow it to thaw in the fridge all day, and then pick up at step #6. Enjoy!

What other make-ahead/freezer meals do you like?

If you’re interested…..lasagna and from scratch pasta.

Chicken and Fettucini Alfredo

I love pasta. It is the ultimate comfort food. It’s “curl up on the couch in your sweat pants and watch a good movie” food. It’s “invite the people you love, and serve a big pot of happiness” food. True fact: nothing says, “I love you,” like pasta and cheese.

20140319_191711Homemade Chicken and Fettucini Alfredo

Serves 3-4

You’ll need:

  • Half a box fettucini pasta
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
  • Dried parsley

1. Get your chicken cooking. We did ours on our George Foreman grill, and it worked pretty well. You could also bake it in the oven or pan fry it in a skillet.

2. Prepare the pasta according to the directions on the box.

3. To make the sauce, melt butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add cream, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add garlic powder, stir. Mix in Parmesan cheese–keep mixing until there are no more lumps. Keep pan on low heat until ready to serve. Sauce is based on this recipe.

4. When pasta is done, plate each serving. Slice the chicken breasts, and layer over pasta. Drizzle with sauce, and sprinkle parsley on top.

Double or triple as needed. Enjoy!

Freezer Meal: Lasagna

When I was a kid, lasagna was my favorite meal. It was a rare treat when it showed up on the table, because it’s more time consuming than the average week night allowed. However, there was one day a year that I could count on it. My birthday. Each of us kids got to choose our birthday celebration dinner, and Mom would make us whatever we wanted. Within reason, of course. My pick, year in and year out: lasagna.

As I’ve mentioned before, you can freeze pretty much any pasta dish. All you have to do is under-cook the noodles slightly, and you’re golden. Lasagna is no exception!

Step #1: prepare your favorite lasagna. Don’t have a recipe? Check out this one, or head over to for some suggestions. You need three basic ingredients:

  • hamburger, ground and browned. 1 lb per lasagna
  • sauce
  • ricotta cheese or cottage cheese
  • noodles, prepared.

Step #2: assemble your lasagna in a freezer safe, oven safe pan.

Step#3: cover with tin foil, and allow it to cool. Slide it in to a level spot in your freezer. Done and done!

Lasagnas are very easy to make in multiples. Making 1 lasagna for dinner? Might as well make two and freeze one of them.

On the day that you want to eat, take the lasagna out of the freezer in the morning and move it to the fridge for the rest of the day. When it’s time to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake covered for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 or 15 minutes.

The bottom line: this takes almost NO hands on effort on the day you make it for dinner. Preheat oven. Cook. Serve. That’s all there is to it!

Interested in more freezer friendly meals? I found this post yesterday!

Happy weekend, all!

Freezer Meal: Stuffed Pasta

I have a confession to make: I love hands on food. Anything that involves assembly, I’m all over it. So, when I saw these heavenly things on Iowa Girl Eats last Friday, I knew that I had to make them. Stat. I had never seen (noticed) such huge pasta shells before, and I immediately fell in love. Love, I tell you. Giant pasta love.

The gist of it is this:

  1. Cook your pasta.
  2. Cook your meat.
  3. Stuff your pasta. (After this step, you could put them in a freezer safe container and save them for up to a month. When you want to eat them, take the container out of the freezer, leave it in the fridge to thaw, and then continue with step 4.)
  4. Pour marinara sauce all over the stuffed shells, and grate more cheese on top of it all.
  5. Bake!

Easy peasy. And oh-so-tasty.

Friday night dinner, anyone?

I wanna know: Do you have weekend dinner traditions?

I remember when I was younger, we would get take out pizza and a movie every other week on pay day. No matter what.

Pasta Sauce

This past summer, I canned an exorbitant amount of tomatoes. Once we consider that there is only one of me, and that tomatoes aren’t a regular part of my diet, I feel like we really can accurately call the amount of tomatoes I have in my basement “exorbitant.” This not merely melodrama, people. This is reality.

Coming to the aforementioned conclusion, I realized that I need to start eating my canned tomatoes, instead of just leaving them to sit on my shelf. All lonely like. Pretty and organized. But lonely.

Over lunch today, I consulted my trusty Joy of Cooking for some inspiration, and made a quick and easy pasta sauce out of one of the jars.

Pasta Sauce

Adapted from Joy of Cooking

You will need:

  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 shallot, diced (alternatively, you could use 1/2 small onion)
  • 1-15 oz can of diced tomatoes (or a pint sized jar)
  • 1 tsp. basil
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Add 1 Tbs olive oil to a small skillet.
  2. Once it is hot, add diced onion and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce to a simmer and cook until desired consistency.

While your sauce is simmerin’ (15 or 20 minutes is all it should take), cook up your favorite kind of pasta. When it is done, drain it, adding 1/8 cup pasta water to your pasta sauce. Let the pasta sauce simmer for 2 more minutes, and then top your pasta.

Done and done! This recipe will make two servings. Double or triple as needed.