Chicken Sausage and Spinach Stuffed Pasta

This meal was inspired by a dish at one of my favorite Italian restaurants, where the noodles are made from scratch daily and you can taste the love and attention that went into creating the pasta from this family-owned establishment. At Carmelo’s Italian Restaurant in Wausau, WI they stuff their homemade shells with a similar combination of ingredients. While my take on their recipe is designed for a quick weeknight meal, when I have more time I switch out the store-bought noodles and make some from scratch just like they do at this charming local restaurant in Wisconsin. When preparing the meal with dry noodles, it works equally well with either large shells or manicotti. Pair this pasta well with your favorite red wine, and add some Italian music for a date night experience at home.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound mild Italian chicken sausage
1 (10.5 ounce) package large shells or manicotti noodles
2 cups frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
1 (15 ounce) container part-skim ricotta cheese
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1 (26 ounce) jar marinara
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, and spray a large rectangular baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Warm olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook for one minute, until fragrant. Add Italian chicken sausage and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until browned. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Cook noodles according to package instructions. Drain noodles and let cool.
  4. Place the spinach in a cloth towel and squeeze to remove water. In a large bowl combine Italian chicken sausage, spinach, ricotta cheese, nutmeg, salt and white pepper. Stir until well combined.
  5. If you are using manicotti noodles or shells that are more tubular, place mixture in large zip top bag. Cut a small slit in the corner of the bag. Pipe mixture into pasta and place in the baking dish. If your shells are more open, simply use a spoon to fill them before placing them in the baking dish.
  6. Cover stuffed pasta with marinara and bake for 25 minutes, until edges are brown and sauce is bubbly. Remove and top with Parmesan cheese. Continue baking for about 2 minutes, until cheese has melted.

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