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Reduced Fat Stuffed Shells with Meat Sauce


Pasta shells stuffed with a rich cheese mixture (ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, and egg) and blanketed with a hearty meat sauce may seem like the ultimate comfort fare, but there's nothing comforting about the nutritionals. Equally bleak are low-fat recipes that deliver pasty, grainy-cheese filled noodles spartanly covered with dry, tough meat sauce. After scores of failed shells, we employed the braun of a food processor and a few unsuspecting ingredients to produce creamy, flavor-packed meaty shells with half the calories and one-quarter the fat.

If cottage cheese appears watery, drain for 10 minutes before proceeding with step 3. Both small and large curd fat-free cottage cheeses are acceptable in this recipe, but whipped cottage cheese is not. Separate individual shells after draining so they don't stick together.

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  • Meat Sauce
  • 6 ounces 93 percent lean ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 3 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
  • Stuffed Shells
  • Salt
  • 1 (12-ounce) box jumbo pasta shells
  • 12 Saltine crackers, broken into pieces
  • 2 1/2 cups fat-free cottage cheese (see note)
  • 2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced


Servings 8
Adapted from


Step 1

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Pulse beef and soy in food processor until thoroughly combined; transfer to medium bowl. Add tomatoes and pulse until coarsely ground.
Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in beef mixture, breaking up mixture with wooden spoon, and cook until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, garlic, and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in processed tomatoes and salt and simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, about 25 minutes. Off heat, stir in basil; set aside. (Sauce can be refrigerated in airtight container for 3 days.)
Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and shells and cook until tender, 12 to 14 minutes. Drain shells and transfer to kitchen towel-lined baking sheet. Reserve 24 shells, discarding any that have broken.
Pulse crackers in clean food processor bowl until finely ground. Add cottage cheese, 1� cups mozzarella, Parmesan, basil, garlic, and � teaspoon salt and process until smooth; transfer to large plastic storage bag. Using scissors, cut off end of bag and pipe 2 tablespoons filling into each shell.
Spread half of meat sauce over bottom of 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Arrange filled shells, seam side up, over sauce in dish. Spread remaining sauce over shells. Cover with foil and bake until bubbling around edges, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove foil and sprinkle with remaining mozzarella. Bake until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes. Serve.

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