Si, Big Anthony, it's another casserole! This time it's classic stuffed pasta shells like Mama used to make (and like my friend Strega Nona would have, if she'd stepped away from her magic spaghetti pot long enough for it to occur to her). The addition of spinach to the filling makes a nice contrast with the white pasta and the red sauce, creating an effect somewhat reminiscent of - yes! - il Tricolore.
Whip up a pan of this crowd-pleasing comfort food, and prepare to hear everyone say - like the good people of Calabria - "Oh, grazie; thank you, thank you!" Even if they're not Italian, and you're not a witch. (NB that I include directions for a pretty basic sauce here, but you can obviously substitute your own favorite recipe instead. For that matter, if you're short on time and/or can't be bothered, a good jarred sauce will also do nicely.)
Classic Stuffed Shells
~ 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
~ 1 small onion, chopped fine
~ 1 carrot, small dice
~ 1 stalk celery, small dice
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each: basil, oregano, marjoram
~ Freshly ground black pepper
~ 3 tbsp. tomato paste
~ 1 28-ounce can fire-roasted pureed tomatoes
~ 2 cups vegetable broth or water
~ Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery, and saute until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, salt, basil, oregano, marjoram, and black pepper; cook another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Stir in the tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, and broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Taste for seasoning, set aside to cool, and puree with an immersion blender until smooth.
~ 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in boiling water at least 30 minutes
~ 1 lb. extra firm tofu, drained and crumbled
~ 1 package vegan mozzarella, grated (I used Teese)
~ 2 tbsp. lemon juice
~ ¼ cup olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each salt, basil
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1/3 cup vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast
~ ½ lb. frozen spinach, thawed and drained
~ ½ cup chopped, fresh parsley
~ Drain the cashews, combine with remaining ingredients in a food processor, and blend to a thick, smooth, delicious paste. (Easy, wasn't it?)
~ Cook 1 lb. of jumbo pasta shells according to package directions; drain and set aside.
~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit, and coat a baking dish with cooking spray.
~ Spread about 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the baking dish.
~ Carefully stuff the cheese mixture into the cooked shells, and arrange them in the baking dish, open-side up; you want to pack them in pretty tightly.
~ Pour the remaining sauce over the shells, cover tightly with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.
~ Remove the foil, raise the heat to 400, and bake uncovered for another 15 minutes.
~ Allow to cool slightly before serving.