Alone, kids can chop the mozzarella, pour the ingredients for the filling into the bowl and stir it all together. They can also help stir the mixture with the partially cooked pasta. With assistance, kids can measure out ingredients, help grate the carrots and fill the baking dish.
1poundwhole-wheat pasta shells
3cupsmarinara saucehomemade or store bought
¾poundfresh mozzarellacut into small cubes (around 1¼ cups)
1carrotpeeled and grated (around 1 cup)
1½cupsraw baby spinachrinsed, dried and chopped
2tablespoonsparmesan cheesegrated or shredded
1teaspoonplus 2 pinches salt
1pinchred pepper flakesoptional
Butter or cooking spray to grease a 9x13-inch baking dish
Heat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking dish.
Cook the shells:
Bring a large, lidded pot of water to a boil and add a pinch of salt plus 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Cook the shells according to the directions on the package minus 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, and drain. Place shells back into the pasta pot and pour remaining olive oil over the top. Stir and set aside.
Prepare the filling:
Into a large bowl, place the ricotta cheese, 1 tablespoon of the parmesan cheese, ¾ of the cubed mozzarella cheese, (around 1 cup) the grated carrot, sliced spinach, remaining salt, ground pepper, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes, if using. Mix together. Add the marinara sauce and stir until it is all combined. Taste and adjust spices as desired. Pour the filling over the pasta and stir together well.
Prepare the baking dish:
Pour the pasta and filling mixture into the greased baking dish. Top the pasta with the remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Cover with tin foil and bake for 25-28 minutes. Uncover and broil on low for 5 minutes, until browned.
Let cool for 5 minutes before slicing and enjoying.