You’ll love these jumbo pasta shells stuffed with a rich filling of cheese, spinach and ground venison.
These stuffed shells were a continuation of my mission to try and come up with creative and unexpected uses for ground venison (and for a bonus humblebrag, these smoked Scotch eggs were a previous triumph!).
Though frozen venison is accessible all year round, I primarily associate deer meat with Winter because of hunting season. Wintertime meals are synonymous with hearty comfort food, and pasta dishes are a natural extension of that. Naturally, you can easily substitute the venison for ground pork or beef, though the lean meat is well paired with the creamy ricotta.
The shells are also a great “make in advance” dish – you can get the shells stuffed and nestled into their baking tray, then store in the fridge until you’re ready to warm in the oven. You could also freeze batches in advance, warming in the same oven for just a little longer than the recipe dictates.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the pasta shells for 2-4 minutes less than the recommended time on the packed (they will be cooked again in the oven). Drain and set aside.
Preheat an oven to 350f.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet, and brown the venison, seasoning with salt. You may need to brown in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan.
In a large mixing bowl, combine spinach, ricotta, egg, mozzarella, nutmeg and lemon zest. Mix together and salt to taste. Mix in the cooled venison.
Place one cup of marinara sauce at the bottom of a baking dish, spreading it to cover the entire base.
Use a spoon to scoop about 1-2 tablespoons of mixture and stuff it inside one of the cooked pasta shells, then place into the baking dish. Repeat and stack the shells close together. Repeat until all shells are filled and the dish is full. Use a spoon to ladle the remaining sauce between the packed shells.
Cover the dish with foil and place into the oven. Bake for 25 minutes. Then, remove the foil and sprinkle the parmesan cheese over the top of the shells. Bake a further 15 minutes and serve while still warm.