Friday, January 27, 2012

Spinach, Artichoke and Tofu Stuffed Shells

A few weeks ago I bought the January/February 2012 issue of Cooking Light after flipping through the magazine and being delighted with how many recipes sounded good enough to try.  I use Cooking Light as a major source of "weeknight" meal ideas; recipes that are easy and quick enough for me to make after a long day of work (followed by walking the dog and, as of late, working out).  Also, besides being quick and easy, many of the recipes have solid "bases" that seems to allow for modifications to meet specific tastes or preferences.  One example of this is the recipe below that I modified from Cooking Light's Shrimp-Stuffed Shells.  Though it sounded good as-written, I though this would be a great recipe to turn meatless.  Don't get me wrong, I am definitely a meat eater, but in an effort to be healthier I've been trying to create one meatless dinner a week.  This goal gave way to the recipe below that uses artichokes, spinach and tofu (!) instead of shrimp.

Canned artichoke hearts are easy and tasty, just remember to rinse well and drain!

(!) Tofu?!?  Yes!  Though it may be a little foreign to some of you, tofu is actually a really nice meat replacement because it doesn't have much flavor of its own so it just absorbs the other flavors of the dish.  Also, silken tofu (used in this recipe) has a very soft consistency that allows it to be blended into other ingredients so that its undecipherable in the final product.  I will use a real life case study as my final selling point.  Jim is not a fan of tofu (as realized after a tofu stir-fry dinner, which actually was quite tasty) but he really liked these stuffed shells!  Try tofu!

Spinach, Artichoke and Tofu Stuffed Shells (adapted from Cooking Light)
24 uncooked jumbo pasta shells (20 to use for recipe, 4 as back up in case any tear!)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic (I used jarred, can also use 6 cloves of fresh garlic)
1 cup chopped artichoke hearts (I used canned artichoke hearts, rinsed with cold water and drained)
1 1/2 cup fresh spinach, chopped
4 oz 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
8 oz silken tofu
1/8 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup milk (I used fat-free milk)
1/2 tsp ground red pepper (I substituted ancho chili pepper for this, it’s a bit milder)
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
5 tsp all-purpose flour
Cooking spray
2 1/2 cup tomato puree (you could also substitute your favorite tomato sauce)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Stack spinach leaves and chop into ribbons

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium heat; swirl to coat.  When oil is warm, add shallots and cook for 2 minutes with occasional stirring.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute; stir constantly to avoid burning.  Add spinach and artichoke to pan; cook until spinach is wilted – about 2 minutes.  Add cream cheese, tofu, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, milk and spices; cook with stirring until cheese melts and mixture is smooth.  To thicken, add flour and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Coat a glass or ceramic baking dish with cooking spray.  (I used 8x8-inch dish and it was a tight squeeze but it worked.  A 13x9-inch dish can also be used.)  Cover the bottom of the dish with 1 cup tomato puree.  Fill 20 shells with a heaping spoonful of the spinach and artichoke mixture and arrange in a single layer in the baking dish.  Cover with remaining tomato puree and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Makes 5 servings (serving size is 4 shells), approximately 355 calories per serving

Spinach, artichoke and tofu contained in a tomato sauced shell...delicious!

Overall I think this recipe modification worked out really well - it tasted like shells stuffed with spinach and artichoke dip!  We will definitely be having this again sometime!

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