Tuesday, March 12, 2013

On My Hearth: Spinach and Basil Conchiglioni (Shells)

If you're my friend in Real Life, you're aware of my "signature dish," and have probably tasted it at least once.  It's been part of our traditional Christmas Eve celebration for many years, and, when she was alive, the meal my Mom always requested for her birthday dinner. Stuffed Shells. If there's anything better than creamy, gooey cheese surrounded by pasta and topped with rich tomato sauce, I can't imagine it.

Since becoming vegan, I've been searching for the perfect dairy-free replacement, so when Christina Pirello graciously shared her own recipe in the cruise program last week, I was intrigued and couldn't wait to give it a try.

In between unpacking, paying bills and the other myriad of post-vacation chores, I gathered up the ingredients and got down to the business of cooking.


                      Spinach and Basil Conchiglioni

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  1              pound  firm tofu
  5             ounces  frozen spinach -- thawed, steamed for 2 minutes, squeezed dry
     1/3           cup  pine nuts
     1/3           cup  fresh basil leaves -- loosely packed
  1           teaspoon  white miso
  2             cloves  fresh garlic
                 pinch  ground nutmeg
                 pinch  cracked black pepper
                        Pomodoro Presto -- (recipe separate)
  1                box  conchiglioni (large shell macaroni)

Combine tofu coarsely into a bowl.  Chop spinach and mix into tofu.  Set aside.

Place pine nuts, basil, miso, garlic,  nutmeg, and a pinch of black pepper in a food processor.  Pulse to form a coarse paste, slowly adding water, up to 2 tablespoons, to create a thick, creamy texture.  Add the tofu mixture and puree until smooth, scraping the sides down as needed.

Preheat oven to 350.  Bring a pot of water to a boil with a generous pinch of salt.  Cook the shells al dente, about 9 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.  Drain shells and lay them out on a kitchen towel to cool to room temperature before handling.

Spoon Pomodoro sauce over the bottom of a large casserole dish.  Spoon filling abundantly into each shell and arrange them to fit tightly in the dish.  Spoon Pomodoro sauce to generously cover stuffed shells; cover tightly and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Serve hot.

  "This baked pasta dish is rich in protein, calcium, and iron and unlike other baked pasta dishes it is low in fat, contains no saturated fat, and is lower in calories than other cheese-laden pasta dishes."
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Serves 4 generously; Per Serving (as calculated by Masercook): 481 Calories; 12g Fat (22.7% calories from fat); 24g Protein; 71g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 94mg Sodium                

                             Pomodoro Presto

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                        extra-virgin olive oil
  2             cloves  fresh garlic -- minced
     1/2                red onion -- diced
     1/2      teaspoon  dried oregano
                        sea salt
                        cracked black pepper
  28            ounces  canned diced tomatoes
  4             sprigs  basil or parsley -- coarsely chopped

Place a small amount of oil, garlic and onion in a deep skillet over medium heat.  When the onions begin to sizzle, add oregano, and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Saute for 2-3 minutes, but do not let the onions brown. Stir in tomatoes, season lightly with salt and pepper, cover and simmer for 3-4 minutes.  Remove cover and simmer for 4-5 minutes more.  Stir in parsley just after turning off the heat. 

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Per Serving (as calculated by Mastercook): 60 Calories; trace Fat (0.8% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 679mg Sodium. 

The verdict? While the end result wasn't as rich & gooey as the standard cheese-laden version, the flavors were fantastic and the consistency almost the same, a definite facsimile! I think next time I'll add a sprinkle of vegan Parmesan to the top but otherwise this just may be my new go-to stuffed shells recipe!

Thank you, Christina!

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