Lemon Asparagus Pesto and Ricotta Stuffed Shells

marydukecooks.com

Lemon Asparagus Pesto adds fresh asparagus flavor to these stuffed shells. The filling has a hint of lemon in addition to creamy ricotta and asparagus. The shells sit on a bed of marinara sauce and are topped with melted mozzarella cheese! So good!

Lemon Asparagus Pesto and Ricotta Stuffed Shells

12 ounces large pasta shells 
1/2 pound asparagus
12 ounces ricotta cheese
1/2 cup Lemon Asparagus Pesto (See recipe below)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Romano cheese (I use Kraft)
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 and 1/2 (25 ounce) jars Marinara sauce
16 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese (4 cups)
2 tablespoons chiffonade basil

Make Lemon Asparagus Pesto. Set aside. Pre-heat oven to 350ºF. Spray two 9 X 13-inch glass or ceramic baking dishes with non-stick spray. Set aside. Make an ice water bath in a large bowl. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Set aside. Bring two large stockpots of salted water to a boil (one for pasta and one for asparagus). Add 1 teaspoon oil to the pasta pot. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and place on paper towels. Cook asparagus 4 minutes and place in ice water bath. Drain asparagus and place on paper towels to dry. Cut asparagus in 1-inch pieces to make 1 cup. 

In a large bowl combine asparagus, ricotta, pesto, Parmesan Romano cheese, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Fill cooked shells with about 1 tablespoon ricotta filling per shell. Pour half of marinara sauce in each baking dish. Divide shells between baking dishes, placing shells open side up. Sprinkle 2 cups mozzarella on top of shells in each baking dish. Bake 10 -15 minutes or until cheese has melted, has started to brown, and marinara sauce is bubbling. Remove from oven. Stack basil and roll up like a cigar then cut into thin strips. Garnish shells with basil.  Makes 34 shells. Tip: I usually make one, 9 X 13-inch baking dish and freeze the remaining shells for later use. You can cook all of the asparagus at the same time, using 1/2 pound for the pesto and 1/2 pound for the filling. Enjoy!

Lemon Asparagus Pesto
1/2 pound asparagus
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup packed basil leaves
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan Romano cheese (I use Kraft)
1 clove garlic 
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 lemon, zest and juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Make an ice water bath in a large bowl. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Set aside. Bring a stockpot of salted water to a boil. Add asparagus and boil 4 minutes. Remove asparagus from stockpot and place in ice water bath to cool. Cool to room temperature. Remove asparagus from ice water. Lay on paper towels to drain. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Set aside. Add basil to hot water. Let set 1 minute. Remove basil from stockpot and place in ice water. Remove from ice water bath and drain on paper towels. (Blanching then cooling in an ice water bath keeps the asparagus and basil bright green- making the pesto bright green vs. being brown.)  

Toast pine nuts in a skillet until light brown. Puree all ingredients together in a food processor. Reserve. Makes 1 cup. You will need 1/2 cup for the recipe. Freeze the other half for later use. 

Published in The News and Neighbor on May 19, 2021.





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