There were a little more steps involved than my normal week night meals - next time this will be a company dish. But I think it's one of our favorite things I've ever made! I made it in stages - I made the meat sauce and the cheese filling and cooked the shells then put everything in the fridge. Then I stuffed the shells right before I was ready to put it in the oven. It would make more sense to stuff the shells and then put in the fridge (that was my original plan, but I ran out of time and had to get to work!).
The finished product:
For the meat sauce: Start by grinding 6 oz of 93% lean ground beef (I used 1 pound of ground chuck) in the food processor with 1 T of soy sauce. I've never heard of doing this, but the processor cuts the collagen in the meat into shorter fibers making it more tender.
Then process 3 (14.5 oz) cans of diced tomatoes. Heat 1 T olive oil in a large skillet and add 1 chopped onion. Saute until soft and then add in beef, 2 T tomato paste, 3 minced garlic cloves, 1/4 t red pepper flakes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook only until the beef is no longer pink - you don't want to make it tough by over-browning. Then stir in processed tomatoes and let simmer about 25 minutes, it will slightly thicken. Then stir in 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil.
For the cheese filling: Pulse 12 saltines in a (clean!) food processor. Add 2 1/2 cups fat-free cottage cheese (drain it if it seems watery), 1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan (I used the dried in the can stuff), 2 T chopped fresh basil and 2 minced garlic cloves.
Side note: the article explains that pureeing saltine crackers with the fat-free cottage cheese gives the filling the same creamy texture that a full-fat version would have.
At some point in all of this cook 1 12-oz box of jumbo pasta shells. You need at least 24 - depending on how much stuffing you put in each one. Follow recipes on box to cook until al dente (it took mine about 9 minutes).
So at the end of the process you end up with three things: meat sauce, cheese filling and cooked jumbo pasta shells.
Then it's just assembly! Put a little sauce in the bottom of a pan (I did three small pans) and stuff a heaping tablespoon of cheese filling into the shell. Place seam side up.
Top with more sauce, cover with foil, and bake in at 375 degree oven for about 35 minutes. Remove foil top with more mozzarella and bake until cheese is melted - about five minutes. Mine made about 28 shells - I'd say to plan on three to four shells per person.