Meatball Spinach & Ricotta Pasta

Now that September is upon us, I’m full of the joys of the autumnal season. It is, without doubt, my favourite month and time of the year. Beautiful golden leaves, the colour orange, the cooler days and bright skies, the fashion (scarfs, woolly socks, tights and jumpers), pumpkin spiced lattes, pumpkin spiced candles (well everything pumpkin spiced), blankets, books, hot chocolate, open fires, bonfire night and Halloween. Then there is fruit harvesting and picking, blackberries, apples and pears in abundance. What my husband likes most are the nuts!  But, without doubt, the thing I love the very most about autumn and September in particular is the comfort food. Pies, soups, stews and all things slow cooked… oh and brussels sprouts. Okay, that’s probably enough reasons to justify my love of autumn.

On the subject of comfort food, this is it at it’s very best. You can leave out the meatballs if you are vegetarian and it would still be a delicious hearty meal. The colours in this dish make it look even more Italian than it tastes. It’s a delicious combination of punchy tomato sauce as a base and giant pasta shells stuffed with beef meatballs, spinach and ricotta. It takes a little love and time to prepare, but not more than half an hour. Then it cooks slowly over about 45 minutes, so it’s a perfect weekend supper.

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This recipe will easily serve four hungry people, maybe even five.

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  • 16 giant pasta shells (Conchiglioni Rigate)
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Pinch chilli flakes
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • Small bunch of basil, chopped
  • Large bag of baby spinach
  • 1 tub of ricotta
  • 8 beef meatballs/seasoned minced beef
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
  • 50g Parmesan, grated
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Start by boiling a large pan of salted water. Cook the pasta shells according to the packet instructions.
  2. Whilst the pasta is cooking prepare a large bowl of cold water with some ice. Once the pasta is cooked transfer it to the cold water to cool.
  3. Add the two of the garlic cloves, the onion and chilli flakes to a pan with some oil, cook for 5 minutes before adding the chopped tomatoes, seasoning and basil. Leave sauce to simmer (for about 20 minutes) while you prepare the spinach and ricotta.
  4. Add the remaining garlic to a fresh pan, cook for a few minutes before adding the spinach. You may have to add a little at a time and let it wilt down.
  5. Add the lemon zest, juice, Parmesan and the ricotta. Stir well.
  6. Remove the pasta shells from the water and pat off any excess water with kitchen towel.
  7. Transfer the tomato sauce to a large casserole dish.
  8. Take each pasta shell and add half a meatball, then spoon in the spinach and ricotta mix. Once stuffed place the pasta shells on to the tomato sauce in a row until the dish is filled. Cover with a grating of Parmesan.
  9. Bake in a preheated (180 degree) oven for around 45 minutes.
  10. Serve in a deep bowl.

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