With asparagus season in full swing, I'm often trying to find ways to incorporate this wonderful springtime vegetable into as many meals as possible. While it is fantastic as a side (which is something that happens a lot at our house), I really love working it into a main dish and giving it the focus it deserves!
These asparagus stuffed shells are one way to do just that. While a touch of mushrooms and spinach are also included, the asparagus is really the main focus. It's cooked until crisp-tender in a skillet, before being stuffed into the pasta shells. After baking, it retains just a bit of crunch, allowing it to really stand out.
One of my other favorite parts about this dish is that it can be made ahead of time. You can fully assemble the dish as instructed in the recipe below, cover with foil and then keep in your refrigerator until you are ready to bake (add a few minutes to the baking time until it is heated through). Added bonus? These also freeze well!
When you're cooking the jumbo pasta shells in the water, be very careful not to overcook them. I like to err on the side of just slightly undercooked, so that they don’t get mushy while baking. They are also much easier to stuff if you cook them to al dente.
One other tip for the shells - I always cook a few extra when making a dish like this. Inevitably a few break on me either while cooking in the water or if I’m not being gentle enough when stuffing them with the filling. If you make a few extra, you won’t end up short.
- 24 jumbo pasta shells
- 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 pound asparagus ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 4 ounces baby bella mushrooms sliced
- 1 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 1 15-ounce container ricotta cheese
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- ¼ teaspoon dried basil
- ¼ teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
- 24 ounces marinara sauce divided
- 1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- Chopped fresh parsley for garnish (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- Cook the pasta shells al dente, according to the package directions. Drain, then rinse with cold water.
- Meanwhile, add the olive oil to a large skillet set over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and cook for about 2 minutes, until it starts to soften. Add in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add in the asparagus and mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms have released most of their juices and the asparagus is crisp tender. Remove from the heat. Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl using a slotted spoon.
- Add the spinach, ricotta, salt, pepper, basil and parsley to the large bowl. Mix until combined, then taste and season with additional salt and pepper as needed. Fold in the egg.
- Spread 1 ½ cups of the marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Scoop an equal amount of filling into each of the pasta shells (they will be generously filled), being gentle so they don’t break. Place the filled shells in the prepared baking dish in a single layer. Pour the remaining marinara sauce evenly over the top of the shells, then sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese. Cover with aluminum foil.
- Bake for 25 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Garnish with the fresh parsley if desired and serve.