BLT-ish Stuffed Pasta Shells

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IMG_5759My garden is in full-on tomato production mode, and I love it.  I’m hoping to process a pile of these red orbs into a few glistening jars of summer to use in the dead of winter (and I’m pretending that the process is not going to be as messy and tedious as it really is), but I’m also completely enjoying having a stash of fresh tomatoes at my disposal for cooking.

I love BLTs and club sandwiches.  And bagels with cream cheese and a slice of fresh tomato.  And grilled cheese with tomato.  And tuna melts with tomato.

IMG_5714It all sounds good, but I was trying to keep my meal plan from looking like the menu from a sandwich shop, especially for the sake of my husband who, as a non-lover of fresh tomatoes, tolerates my tomato growing habit.  So, with BLTs on the brain, an afternoon with lower temps, a tolerable level of humidity that would make turning on the oven bearable, and a good dose of culinary inspiration, I set out to make BLT lasagna.
And then I discovered I had a grand total of 6 lasagna noodles.  Awesome.  Time to implement Plan B, which required boiling water, but I was not about to be deterred.  So, with a stash of freshly-cooked jumbo pasta shells, I set out to make an ode to the sandwich: BLT-ish stuffed shells.  (The “-ish” comes from the fact that you really don’t want to bake lettuce; I used spinach instead.) I opted to use the bulk of tomatoes in the bottom of the dish as a sauce of sorts, mixed with a couple glugs of olive oil, a smattering of garlic, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

IMG_5715The shells themselves are stuffed with a cream cheese and mayo-based filling laced with bacon, garlic, cheese, a bit of tomato, and spinach.  (And in case you’re wondering, if you ever accidentally freeze a package of cream cheese because it was sandwiched between bags of shredded cheese in the plastic grocery bag you tossed into the chest freezer when you got home from shopping, this is a perfect place to use it.)  The whole dish is then topped with one more chopped tomato to aid in keeping the shells moist and sealed in with a good dose of cheese and a generous coating of toasted panko bread crumbs.

My eight-year-old ate three helpings.

IMG_5719BLT-ish Stuffed Pasta Shells

  • 20 jumbo pasta shells, cooked until almost tender
  • 5 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper

Filling

  • 1/2 lb. bacon, chopped (feel free to use up to a pound)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • One 8-oz. brick cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup mayo with olive oil
  • 3 cups fresh spinach, torn
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese or combination of two
  • 1 medium tomato, diced

Topping

  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup whole wheat panko bread crumbs
  • salt
  • pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spread the 5 chopped tomatoes in bottom of 9×13″ baking dish, drizzle with 1/4 cup olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Set aside.
  2. Cook bacon in large microwavable bowl on high for 3 minutes or until browned but not crisp. (Do not drain.) Add onion, garlic, and cream cheese; microwave on high one more minute.  Stir in mayo, spinach, eggs, cheese, and diced tomato.  Carefully spoon filling into pasta shells, starting with about 2 Tbsp. filling per shell; set over tomatoes in baking dish.
  3. Spoon remaining diced tomato evenly over shells.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  4. In small bowl, combine 1/4 cup olive oil and bread crumbs.  Remove baking dish from oven after 30 minutes, uncover, and spread bread crumbs over shells.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Return to oven and bake, uncovered, an additional 15 minutes or until hot and beginning to bubble.  Let rest for 5 minutes.  Serve.

IMG_5716

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