Italian-Style for the Holidays!

What better way to celebrate the holidays than with crowd-pleasing, Italian inspired fare like my Festive Stuffed Shells? Inspired by the cheerful colors of the season, my vegan version of this popular holiday dish delivers hearty taste and satisfying flavor.


This merry main dish showcases vibrant red and green hues, tantalizing textures and delectable flavors that will delight your family and friends at this jolly time of year.



I love to prepare this Festive Stuffed Shells casserole to serve at gala gatherings. In this inviting dish, potato pulp, baked and then puréed, stands in beautifully for cheese, while the spinach adds substance and visual interest.

Served over Quick Baby Spinach Salad, this marvelous recipe makes a lovely presentation for any winter wonderland soirée. See all of the recipes below in this blog.


Be Happy, Be Healthy and Be Well! and...Merry Christmas!



Festive Stuffed Shells

Makes 4 to 6 servings


20 to 22 jumbo pasta shells

3 to 4 large russet potatoes, baked and cooled (see note)

1/4 cup unsweetened nondairy milk

1/2 cup diced yellow or sweet onion (about 1 small onion)

1 teaspoon fresh minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

2 cups lightly packed baby spinach, finely chopped

1 1/3 cups Dad’s Marinara (see below) or your favorite prepared marinara sauce, plus more for serving

Fresh chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the shells. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shells are almost cooked, but still quite firm. Drain and let cool.

Meanwhile, slice each potato in half lengthwise. Carefully scoop out the pulp, using a teaspoon or grapefruit spoon. Measure out three cups of the potato pulp, making sure to pack it very tightly into the measuring cup. Put the three cups of the potato pulp in a blender. Add the nondairy milk, onion, garlic, and sea salt. Process until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl. Fold the chopped baby spinach in to the potato mixture.

Spread 1 cup of the marinara sauce into the bottom of a 9 x 12 casserole dish.

            Spoon about one and a half tablespoons of the potato filling into each of the shells. Place each shell into the prepared casserole dish. Repeat until all shells are stuffed. Top each shell with one heaping teaspoon of the marinara sauce.


(Festive Stuffed Shells, ready to go in the oven)


Cover and bake 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the sauce is bubbling. Uncover during the last 5 to 7 minutes of baking for shells to brown slightly. Cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. I like to serve three shells per person arranged on top of my Quick Baby Spinach Salad recipe. Serve extra sauce in a gravy boat or small bowl to pass at the table.

NOTE: Potatoes may be baked a day in advance of preparing the shells. After baking, wrap the potatoes tightly in foil and refrigerate until needed.



Dad’s Marinara


Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes (I use crushed tomatoes, but Dad uses canned tomato sauce)

1 cup water, plus more as needed

3 cloves garlic, minced, or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 to 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon dried parsley

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (1/8 teaspoon for a less spicy sauce)

2 tablespoons good red wine (optional)

Sea salt or Himalayan pink salt (to taste)

Put the tomatoes, water, garlic, basil, oregano, olive oil, parsley, and red pepper in a large sauce pan. If mixture seems too thick, add 1/4 cup water. Stir to combine. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Decrease the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Add the optional red wine and simmer for 15 to 30 minutes more, or up to 2 hours (the longer you cook it, the more developed the flavors will be). Add salt to taste, if desired. Serve over whole-grain pasta of your choice.


Quick Baby Spinach Salad


Makes 2 to 3 servings

3 cups lightly packed baby spinach

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon maple syrup

Freshly ground sea salt or Himalayan pink salt

Freshly ground pepper

Put the spinach in a medium bowl. To make the dressing, put the vinegar and maple syrup in a small bowl and briskly whisk until smooth. Pour the dressing over the spinach and toss gently to coat the leaves. Top with sea salt and pepper to taste.