Monday, February 27, 2012

Stuffed Shells with Crab and Spinach

I wanted to get this post up last Friday, but received sad news that afternoon.  My beloved grandpa died.  He went the best way possible.  He laid down for a nap, and didn't wake up.  I am thankful he was able to meet Theresa last summer before he died.  I loved him so very much.  

Sigh...and life goes on.  And I still have 7 people to feed, including one very hungry baby girl.  We just can't believe how much food this tiny thing can pack away.  She must have a hollow leg. ;-)

I saw this recipe in my latest issue of Everyday Food.  I liked the idea of stuffed shells, but knew I wanted to make some changes.  First, nobody here is a fan of tuna casserole, so I swapped the tuna with canned crab meat.  I left out the red pepper flakes because my kiddos have tender tongues (well...except Rebecca), and added nutmeg to the sauce.  I love the flavor of nutmeg and spinach together.  I used 1/2 skim and 1/2 whole milk to cut back on the fat and calories, and panko bread crumbs instead of blitzing up a hamburger bun for the crumbs. Lastly, I added some cheese to the pasta sauce, because everything is better with cheese, right?  

Stuffed Shells with Crab and Spinach
adapted from Everyday Food 

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely diced
1/4 all purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
2 cups skim milk
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
8 ounces (about 1 cup) white American or monterey jack cheese
1/2 cup panko or other dried bread crumbs
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese. 
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend
1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 cans (6 ounces each) crab meat
Salt and pepper to taste
6 ounces (about 20 count) jumbo pasta shells

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add a couple of swirls of olive oil--this will keep them from sticking together.  When ready, drop your pasta and cook according to the package directions for al dente, but take it out one minute early.  This keeps the pasta from being mushy in the finished dish. 

Drain into a greased, 9x13 casserole dish and set aside.  Preheat your oven to 375.  

In a large pot or skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Saute the onion until soft and tender, about 5-6 minutes. 

Add the flour and whisk for another minute to cook out the raw flour taste. 

Gradually add the milk, making sure to whisk constantly to avoid lumps.  Cook until slightly thickened and bubbly.  Turn the heat down very low, (or off) and whisk in the cheese; then the sauce won't curdle on you. 

I used a block of white American I had leftover from Theresa's birthday party--waste not, want not, right?  And it was really about 1 1/2 cups. ;-)  I would recommend monterey jack or a mild cheddar if you don't have American.  Anything else will be too strong in flavor and overwhelm the crab meat.  

Stir the sauce gently until all the cheese is melted,  Sprinkle in the nutmeg, season to taste with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.  

In a medium bowl, mix together the parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, and Italian seasoning.  I used my favorite, Penzy's Pasta Sprinkle.  Reserve half of this mixture for the topping. 

Now, take half of the cheese sauce, and add it to the remaining breadcrumb mixture, along with the spinach and crab meat.  Mix together until well combined.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  (I know the sauce isn't pictured, sorry about that).  

Fill each pasta shell with about 2 tablespoons of the spinach and crab mixture.  

When all the shells are filled, carefully pour the remaining cheese sauce over the top.  Sprinkle with the rest of the breadcrumbs.  

Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling around the edges, and the breadcrumbs are a golden brown.  I put mine under the broiler for just a couple of minutes to speed things up.  Let sit for about minutes before serving. 

Doesn't it look amazing?  :-)

I couldn't wait until dinnertime.  I tasted one right away.  Oh, it was so good.  The pasta shells hold just the right amount of creamy filling, and the crab and spinach taste incredible together.  This is way better than tuna casserole!  

I will be straight-up honest with you...Rebecca, Theresa, David, and I LOVED this casserole, the other kids, not so much.  Oh well.  More tasty leftovers for the rest of us...YUM. 

I hope you try this recipe this Friday if you're observing Lent.  God bless your table tonight! 

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