You have heard the old saying, that a way to a mans heart is through his stomach! I am not sure if this is true in Mark and my case. The first time I ever cooked for Mark I decided to pull out all the stops! I mean I wanted a dish that was impressive, I knew tasted good, and that I was good at making. You are probably thinking I made him my Pasta with Olive Oil and Veggies right? WRONG! I made him stuffed shells. I still remember this conversation vividly. I had asked Mark what he liked to eat; he said the usual things like chicken, pasta, and on that list he said he loved cheese! Bingo what better thing to make then pasta shells stuffed to the brim with a cheese and spinach mixture topped with a dusting of cheese and baked to a bubbling perfection (yes my side lacked the mounds of cheese this night :) ).
I was excited the entire day of work, I had made a grocery list of everything that I would need. I also had the perfect wine in mind that would pair well with pasta! Off the top of my head I can't remember the wine but I remember it was a dry white one. I rushed from work to the gym and to the grocery store people must have thought I was a mad women, but I was that excited! I love nothing more then cooking for people, and this particular night I was cooking for someone I liked! I was a bit nervous because after all this was the first time cooking for Mark! I wanted everything to be perfect, and made sure to give myself enough time to cook and get cleaned up. The stuffed shells turned out amazing. I was happy as a clam with the way they turned out, and how well the presentation/taste was. Mark even seemed to enjoy them, we even boxed up the leftovers for him to take home!
However here is the real kicker of this story, Mark does not even like stuffed shells! But he did not have the guts to tell me he did not because he did not want to hurt my feelings! You see Mark loves cheese, but the one cheese he does not like is Ricotta which is what makes the entire stuffing of these stuffed shells! I actually did not find out Mark did not like stuffed shells till months later, when he was finally comfortable admitting the truth! I guess food isn't the only way to a mans heart must have been my goofy comments, and weird personality that hooked him! Oh and don't forget about the great facial expressions!
Anyways lets discuss dinner tonight! I did an undone and healthy version of stuffed shells. You will be shocked to know that this recipe only has 1/4 cup of actual shredded cheese. The real creaminess in this pasta sauce comes from pureed white kidney beans! A few vegan blogs I read talked about how they use hummus in their pasta to up the creaminess factor. I decided tonight to give this a shot! I also loaded my undone stuffed shells with lots of veggies, and spices to maintain the flavor. This pasta dish also has no added oil. I simply water sauteed my vegetables. This way you get a nice cook vegetable without all the added oil. You lose no flavor by not adding oil, but you do not lose out on taste!
Here is what you will need:
Undone Stuffed Shells,
1 1/2 Cups Pasta
1/4 Cup Cottage Cheese (instead of ricotta)
1/4 Cup Parmesan Cheese
1 Cup White Kidney Beans (drained and rinsed)
1 Cup Fresh Spinach
1/2 Cup Brussel Sprouts Chopped (I used 4 Brussel Sprouts)
1/2 Cup Onion
1/2 Cup Pasta Sauce of Choice (I used Trader Joe's Original Marinara)
2 Cloves of Garlic
Black Pepper, Basil, and Cayenne Pepper to taste
Here is what you will do:
Start by getting a pot of water boiling for your pasta, and preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Once your water is boiling add your pasta and cook until Al Dente. Drain pasta and return to pot. While your pasta is cooking chop up your veggies and start to saute them. I used about 3 tablespoons of water to saute the veggies. I started by sauteing my onion and garlic till the onion was translucent and the garlic was fragrant.
I then added my brussels sprouts and cooked until tender.
Last to be added to the veggie mix was the spinach. Add spinach one handful at a time and cook the vegetable mixture till spinach is wilted (about 2 minutes).
When the veggies were done I combined my 1/4 cup cottage cheese, 2 tablespoons of the parmesan, and the 1/2 cup of tomato sauce. I threw in my spices (black pepper, basil and Cayenne pepper) and set to work pureeing the beans.
I drained and rinsed my beans and measured out 1 cup. I then put them in my hand held blender cup with a tablespoon of water, pepper, basil, cayenne pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar.
I blended the beans until they had a nice smooth consistency. The beans should look something like this,
Now add your bean puree to your cheese and sauce mixture,
and stir well to combine.
Grab your pasta pot, and add your veggies on top of the pasta.
Then spoon your sauce over the noodles and veggies and give everything a good mix. You want all the vegetables and noodles to be covered in the sauce.
Pour your pasta into a baking dish, and top with the remaining 2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese. Bake in your 350 degree oven till heated through, and the cheese on top becomes melty. I baked my pasta for about 15-20 minutes.
While I waited for my pasta to be done I cut up my apple and got my grapefruit ready for dinner. I was excited to see if the bean puree really would make my baked pasta creamy. I could hardly wait to try the pasta, and as soon as my timer went off I was ready to serve up my plate!
The pasta was not dry, and maintained a smooth texture. I was impressed with how the beans added flavor and creaminess to this dish. Adding pureed beans to my baked pasta is a great option for me since I am not a huge fan of all the cheese. I also liked the fact that the pureed beans gave this dish an additional punch of protein! I am always a huge fan of spinach in baked pasta, so the addition of brussels sprouts was an added bonus! I am going to keep this recipe on hand for easy week night suppers. I feel you could use any vegetable you prefer, I just used what I had on hand! What a great success in the kitchen this was tonight!
I am off to relax and prepare for a meeting I have tomorrow! Looks like this cool weather will be around for a little while longer! Morning oats here I come! Enjoy your monday night and remember to live Happily Ever Healthy!