Getting the filling together kept my hands busy while we waited on the jumbo shells to finish cooking. I chopped up the broccoli, shredded the carrots, whacked away at a small onion and minced a couple cloves of garlic to throw into the skillet to begin the process. When they had started to become tender, we tossed in thawed and drained frozen spinach (using our handy potato ricer to press out the excess liquid!) with a little vegetable broth to help things along.
Once heated through, the cover was removed from the skillet to let most of the excess liquid inside evaporate so the filling isn't too wet. To refresh the mixture, we stirred fresh basil into the warm vegetables, followed by a scoop of ricotta cheese and a couple hefty pinches of Parmesan to bind the vegetables together. While all that was happening, I drained the shells when they were ready and set them onto a baking sheet to cool down a bit... you don't want to burn yourself trying to fill 'em up!
After slipping all of that healthy filling into the shells, we arranged them in a large baking dish with a generous pool of marinara sauce covering the bottom. I say arranged, but it was more like squished - I don't know if our pasta box had a few extra shells in it or what, but it was quite the tight fit! With a sprinkling of mozzarella cheese, the pan was covered and planted in the middle of our heated oven until the shells were warmed through and the sauce was bubbly.
I thought it was a little odd that the tops of the shells were not dribbled with sauce in the recipe, but since it was going to be covered, Jeff and I figured they would be okay. While the shells did not end up being dry or tough by any means, I did think they would have benefited by saving at least a half cup of the sauce that went onto the bottom and spooning it over the top instead for added moisture. We liked how these were stuffed with a variety of good-for-you vegetables, but it didn't come across as being in-your-face... the ricotta and Parmesan added enough distraction that I think even the kiddos in your house might be fooled and would enjoy this! You can leave out the crushed red pepper, but there isn't enough to make it very spicy - just a bit to soften the edge.
Veggie Stuffed Shells