A hot meal for harried nights

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

But you can plan for nights like this by having a meal ready to go in the freezer. The following recipe, originally from the Associated Press, makes two pans: one for now, and the other to go in the freezer. All you'll have to do is remove the plastic wrap, pop it in the oven, and attend to whatever other disasters you might be facing, without resorting to fast food or carry-out pizza for dinner.


Makes 8 servings


1 box (12 ounces) jumbo pasta shells

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup fine chopped yellow onions

1 pound hot or sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 large egg

1 container (16 ounces) part-skim ricotta cheese

1 box (10 ounces) chopped frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed dry

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 jar (32 ounces) pasta sauce

If serving immediately, heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta shells in boiling water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Rinse under cold water.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the onions and saut until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up with a spoon until no traces of pink remain, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Remove skillet from heat. Cool.

In a large bowl, lightly beat the egg. Add the ricotta, spinach, 1/2 cup parmesan, basil, bread crumbs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper and sausage. Spread 1/2 cup of the pasta sauce in the bottom of each of two 13-by-9-inch pans. Fill pasta shells with ricotta mixture. Arrange half of the shells in each dish. Spread with remaining pasta sauce. Cover pans with foil and bake 30 minutes or until hot and bubbling. Uncover and sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Bake another 10 minutes.

Alternately, one or both baking dishes can be frozen uncooked for up to 4 months. The dishes should be covered tightly with foil then plastic wrap. When ready to serve, heat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove plastic wrap, but leave foil on. Bake directly from the freezer for 1 hour or until hot and bubbling. Uncover and sprinkle each dish with parmesan. Bake another 10 minutes.

PER SERVING: 488 calories; 29 g protein; 50 g carbohydrates; 2 g fiber; 19 g fat (8 g saturated); 70 mg cholesterol; 1,153 mg sodium.

Robin Davis is food editor of The Columbus Dispatch . She oversees the Food section, published each Wednesday, which features recipes, question-and-answer columns and reviews of cookbooks, wines and local eateries.