Even though I live in warm South Florida, there’s something about the winter season that makes me crave comfort food. It is a touch cooler than the summertime, so there’s no better time to eat heavier foods. But I’m also conscious of all those pesky details like fat and calories, so lightened up versions of said comfort foods are never a bad idea in my book. That’s where these Cheeseburger Stuffed Shells came in. I’m all about a cheeseburger or a cheesy pasta dish, and both of those things together? OMG!! And this is a lightened up version with a whole lot less guilt than I ever imagined possible. I think I’m in love, and I haven’t even started cooking!
Healthy, skinny, lightened-up cheeseburger stuffed shells with tomato meat sauce, mustard seasoning, lettuce, and cheese.
I really liked the fact that this recipe for cheeseburger stuffed shells uses lean ground beef and reduced-fat shredded cheese. Cutting out fat always gets a big thumbs up from me. Using no salt added tomato sauce was also a plus, and I took it further by also buying no salt added diced tomatoes. There’s plenty of salt in the dill pickle slices, and I can always add more if I feel it’s needed.
The jumbo pasta shells, produce, liquid smoke, and burger seasoning rounded out my shopping list. My local Publix sells the Weber brand recommended in the ingredients list, but they were out of it when I was there. I bought McCormick Grill Mates Hamburger Seasoning instead (link so you can see the packaging).
When I looked into ordering the Weber Gourmet Burger Seasoning online I found it was much more expensive than what I found locally (around $7 online versus $2 locally). I decided to substitute the McCormick seasoning since I’ve never tried the Weber brand and the price was so much better. This may end up being another bottle of seasoning that hangs out in my pantry for a few years, and I’ll feel better about it if I spend less.
The instructions for this recipe broke down nicely and were easy to follow. Here’s how my time broke down:
- 31 minutes from prep through step 12
- 30 minutes to bake
- 61 minutes total
I’ve never made stuffed shells before, but the process was very similar to making spaghetti with meat sauce or lasagna. The basic steps were to boil the pasta, make the tomato sauce, stuff the shells, and bake. And that all went really well up until the shell stuffing part.
I quickly found out it’s not a good idea to hold the pasta shell in your bare hand while you spoon in lava-hot meat sauce. I wasn’t worried because the pasta had cooled. Yeah. Once I figured out that resting the shell in the casserole dish and then stuffing it was a better idea, things got much less painful.
It really wasn’t that bad, though, and I had my shells stuffed in short order. You can see the results below with some of the shredded cheese sprinkled on top. Then it was into the oven for 30 minutes, and out popped warm cheeseburger-ey goodness.
One thing I’m glad I did was use bigger pans that I thought I would need. A deep saute pan for the sauce gave me the room to stir everything thoroughly without making a mess. I’m sure it also contained some of the grease spatter. And a 4.5-quart pan worked nicely for the jumbo pasta shells. There was plenty of room for the shells to boil without sticking to the pan.
My 2-quart casserole dish worked pretty well for actually baking the shells though it was a little bit of a squeeze to get in all the stuffed shells. They also seemed to expand while they baked in the oven, and this dish was just deep enough for everything. I would not risk using a smaller dish.
And finally, one small change I made was chopping up the pickles before mixing them into the tomato sauce. They’re in there, but you can’t see them.