With many of us looking for inspiration in the kitchen at the moment, we’ve turned to our dear friend and chef, Nina Parker, to provide just that. Nina’s cookbooks, Nina St Tropez and Nina Capri, are mainstays in our kitchens, and we love her fresh and simple approach to food. Here, she shares her crowd-pleasing recipe for Baked Pasta with Spinach and Ricotta. Don’t forget to get the kids involved!
Here is what you will need:
250g pasta shells
For the quick tomato sauce:
350g tinned tomatoes, (just under 1 tin)
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp vegetable stock cube
25g fresh basil (including stalks), plus 10g extra for baking
50g sun-dried tomatoes
4 diced garlic cloves
Salt and pepper
For the pasta filling:
320g baby spinach
Good grating of nutmeg
100g grated Parmesan/pecorino, plus extra for grating between the layers
Add the pasta to a bowl and cover in boiling water. For the smaller shells, leave for 10 minutes, and 15 minutes for the larger shells. You need them to be al dente. Drain, run under cold water and put to one side.
Add the ingredients for the tomato sauce to a blender and blend to a smooth consistency. Taste to check the seasoning. It should be quite sharp with garlic and quite strong in flavour generally. This will dull down after baking.
Blanch the spinach in boiling water for 30 seconds, then drain. Run under cold water and then squeeze out the excess liquid. Chop up the spinach and then add to a bowl along with the rest of the filling ingredients. Be generous with the seasoning here, you want a real burst of flavour in each shell.
Now have in front of you all the elements of the dish, ready for assembly; the al-dente pasta shells, the ricotta-and-spinach mix for filling the shells, the tomato sauce and the excess grated Parmesan for layering.
Add a 1-2cm layer of tomato sauce to either a 12-inch cake tin or a standard baking tray. Then fill each shell with half a teaspoon of filling. Lay the shells in rows in the tray, then cover with tomato sauce (you might have a little sauce left over), grate over the Parmesan, then add some basil leaves, salt and pepper. Top with another layer of the small shells (you would just do one layer for the larger shell pasta), more Parmesan, salt, pepper and olive oil.
Bake for 15-20 minutes in a preheated 200°C degree oven.
Eat straight away!
The shell pasta is a fun shape to play around with and add different fillings to, such as courgette or mushrooms. Try an Italian deli, or online, for the shells. Alternatively, you could bake with penne or fusilli and dot the ricotta around the shapes.
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