If you’re like me, the pasta cravings can hit hard. However, the rich, creamy, cheese-laden fillings and sauces don’t fall into my healthy-eating plans. I have a solution: Re-think classic stuffed shells with fiber-rich vegetables – no dairy needed. In this recipe, heart-healthy spinach and shredded sweet potato make up the bulk of filling, providing a generous amount of fiber and potassium. Then, to bind it all together, I use a dairy-free mozzarella and a cashew-based herb and garlic cheese that melt nicely and add moisture. If you have a nut allergy (or just really love cheese), you can swap in a shredded cow’s milk mozzarella and a spreadable herb cheese like Boursin. The great thing about this pasta dish is that it is versatile and fail-proof. Please note: this recipe calls for more pasta shells than you will likely need, factoring in any breakage during cooking and assembling.
In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the shells until al dente. Drain and let cool slightly. Preheat the oven to 350°.
Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the shallot and cook over moderately-low heat, stirring, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Squeeze any liquid from the grated sweet potato and add to the skillet with the crushed red pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over moderately-low heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.
Using your hands, squeeze any excess water from the thawed spinach. Transfer the spinach to a medium bowl. Add both of the cheeses, julienned basil, lemon zest and the cooled sweet potato mixture. Gently mix until incorporated.
Spread 1 cup of the marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. When the shells are cool enough to handle, fill each one with a spoonful of the spinach-and-sweet potato filling. Place the stuffed shell filling side up in the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining shells and filling, arranging the pasta in a single layer. Spoon the remaining marinara sauce over the top.
Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for 10 minutes more, or until the cheese is melted and the top is beginning to crisp. Let cool slightly. Garnish with torn basil leaves and serve.