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Meatless Monday recipe of the week: Simple Spinach Stuffed Shells

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This Monday happens to be the warmest day of the week with the temperature topping out at 50 degrees.

As the temperature (inevitably) drops, you'll be happy you took advantage of Meatless Monday by using it to make something delicious that can be reheated all week. Thus, you'll be less inclined to give up and order pizza or another warming take-out option if you have these Simple Spinach Stuffed Shells leftover in the fridge.

Warm and comforting, this sophisticated take on a classic Italian dish includes all-star green spinach and adult ingredients like fennel seeds, garlic and basil. The result is something familiar yet different, indulgent yet a bit lighter.

Simple Spinach Stuffed Shells

1 1/4 pounds spinach (2 10-oz bags frozen, or 1 big bunch fresh)

18 ounces low-fat cottage cheese

1 cups shredded Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup for shells plus 1/2 cup for topping)

2 tablespoons washed and chopped fresh basil (or use 2 teaspoons dried basil)

1 tablespoon washed, dried and minced fresh parsley

1/2 tablespoon fennel seeds

4 fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced

Sea salt & pepper to taste

3 1/2 cups pasta sauce

16 ounces pasta shells (about 32 shells)

If working with dried pasta, cook shells as directed, wash and drain. Prepare spinach (wash, dry and chop fine if fresh; thaw if frozen) and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add cottage cheese, 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan, fresh basil, parsley, fennel seeds and minced garlic. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Blend to desired consistency. Taste the mixture and adjust seasonings if needed. Note: Go easy on the sea salt, as cottage cheese is a bit saltier than the classic version of stuffed shells that call for ricotta cheese.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a 9x13-inch baking dish, spoon 1/2 cup pasta sauce to coat the bottom of the dish and to prevent sticking. You may also add a dash of extra virgin olive oil if desired.

Using a serving spoon and clean hands, fill each pasta shell with the spinach mixture. Carefully transfer stuffed shells, filling side up, to the prepared baking dish. Spoon remaining pasta sauce over shells and sprinkle with remaining shredded Parmesan cheese.

Cover the baking dish loosely with foil and bake until heated through, about 30 minutes. Allow the shells to settle for 10 minutes before serving (or else they may be juicy).

— Recipe from www.organicvalley.coop.

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