This dish can be prepared, cooked, and ready to serve 8 to 10 people in about an hour to a hour and fifteen minutes. For a family of four simply cut the recipe in half. Can be served with just a simple side salad tossed with an Italian vinaigrette dressing.
2 to 3 finely minced garlic cloves (or about 1/4 tsp. to 1 tsp. garlic powder), to taste
1 Tbsp. dried oregano (or 3 Tbsp. fresh)
2 tsp dried parsley (or 1/3 cup fresh chopped)
1 Tbsp. onion powder (or 1/2 to 2/3 cup fresh minced)
2 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes
2 cans (14.5 ounces each) tomato sauce
2 small cans (6 ounces each) tomato paste
1 Tbsp. olive oil
24 jumbo pasta shells
8 ounces cream cheese
12 ounces ricotta cheese
12 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, pat dry
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded or granulated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded or granulated Romano cheese
1/2 cup sliced black olives, drained
Optional: 1 lb. ground Italian sausage
Prepare the marinara sauce: Saute onions and garlic in olive oil until onions are translucent (appear almost see through). Place everything into a food processor (or use a blender or a hand held emulsifier) to puree until smooth. Set aside.
Boil the pasta shells al dente for only 9 minutes, rinse, drain, and set aside to cool.
Note: You do not want to boil the pasta for the usual full 12 minutes since they are going to cook even further in the oven to avoid having over cooked, limp, falling apart shells.
Position your oven racks. Most ovens have four slots in which to place two or three racks; use the two center slots. If your oven only has three positions it will be better to bake the two dishes separately on the center slot so allow yourself an additional twenty to twenty five minutes. You can also prepare the dishes up to four day ahead, refrigerate, and bake one at time on just the center rack if preferred.
Preheat oven to 350 F degrees.
Very lightly spray oil two large 13 x 9 x 2 inch casserole baking dishes. Spoon a very thin layer of marinara onto the bottom of each dish. Set aside.
Stir together ricotta and cream cheeses and spinach and carefully stuff into cooled shells using a teaspoon.
Place a dozen stuffed shells with opening facing up into each of the casserole dishes in a single layer.
Cover with remaining marinara.
Sprinkle 1 cup of mozzarella over top each dish. Also top each with half of the Parmesan and Romano cheeses. Sprinkle half of the black olives on top of each dish.
Bake, covered with foil, in preheated 350 F degree oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
Note: To save time you can bake both dishes at the same time but be sure half way through the bake to switch them from their places on the upper and lower center racks to ensure even baking. You can also prepare the dishes up to four days ahead, refrigerate, and bake one at time on just the center rack if preferred.
Poke holes in the foil (with steak knife, fork, or skewer, etc.) to allow steam to escape for 5 minutes before carefully removing. Then allow to sit for 5 to 10 minutes more, uncovered, before serving.
If desired, brown 1 lb. ground Italian sausage in a skillet, drain, and sprinkle half over top each fully baked dish just before serving.