Stuffed Shells with Lentil Ragout and Spinach
1 small cinnamon stick
1/4 medium-size onion, peeled but left intact, plus 1/2 onion minced
1/2 cup dried brown or green lentils
3 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 package jumbo pasta shells (about 20 pieces)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium-size carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup red wine
1 sprig fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried
2 1/2 cups tomato puree
1/4 tsp cayenne
Ground black pepper
4 cups spinach, washed thoroughly, stems removed and finely chopped
Parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)
1. Bring 1 cup water to a boil with cinnamon stick and the intact 1/4 onion in a small saucepan. Add the lentils, cover and lower the heat to low. Cook for 25 minutes. Discard the cinnamon and onion. Add 1/2 tsp of the salt and stir.
2. In a large saucepan, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Add the shells and 2 teaspoons of the salt and cook for 12 minutes; the shells will still be a little tacky. Drain and transfer to a baking sheet to cool. Untangle the shells to prevent sticking.
3. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the carrot, celery, the minced 1/2 onion, and garlic. Stir and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and thyme, allowing the wine to reduce for about 2 minutes. Add the tomato puree and cayenne, stir to combine, and cook over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Add the lentils and cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutes. Add the reamining 1 teaspoon of salt and the black pepper, and taste, adding more as you see fit. Discard the thyme sprig, if using fresh. Stir in the spinach, turn off the heat, and cover.
4. Heat the oven to 350F. Ladle a small amount of ragout into a square or rectangular baking dish. Line up the shells in dish, then with a small spoon, fill each shell with the ragout. Top off the shells with a ladleful of ragout, followed by cheese, if using. Bake for 30 minutes.