Pasta gets a bad rap these days and is dismissed as a high-carb food. I'm doing my best to ignore that message. I love my pasta, so I like to make my pasta dishes with the vegetables on overdrive. Sure, there's pasta in there, but it's stuffed with an entire pound of spinach and bathed in a vegetable-rich tomato sauce. There's just enough cheese to make it tasty, and you can even switch that out for a completely plant-based version. So go ahead and indulge, with Spinach Stuffed Shells.
This dish has a certain elegance and curb-appeal, thanks to the pretty shape. It has all the elements of lasagna, assembled into a different format. Instead of a layered slice, you have individual pasta cups cradling a lasagna filling, dabbed with red sauce.
To start, you'll be making a tomato sauce with a classic soffritto of onion, carrot and celery. That's the Italian version of the sautéed aromatics that serve as a starting point for sauces and soups around the world. It's worth taking the time to start your sauce right, as these bits of vegetables give it depth, sweetness and texture. I used fire-roasted, petite-diced canned tomatoes and tomato sauce in equal measure, for a chunky-smooth experience. White wine might seem out of character in a red sauce, but it goes well with all the vegetables.
Of course, you can buy jarred sauce and skip this step. I hope you won't. If it helps, start a day ahead by making the sauce and refrigerating it until time to assemble the shells.
For the filling, you're going to blanch a pound of salad spinach, and it's OK if you buy the 10-ounce container and add another 5 ounce container. That's 1 ounce shy but there's no trim or waste. Once you drop the leaves in boiling water, they only need a minute to cook before you drain them and rinse with cold water. You'll be amazed at how that big pile of spinach is transformed into a tiny pile, once you wring it out.
Ricotta is a relatively low-fat cheese with a sweet, milky taste, and it gives the filling just enough creaminess. If you go with the tofu option, feel free to add some nutritional yeast, too.
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of "Big Vegan" and "Plant-Based Meats." Find her at robinasbell.com.