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I have a friend with Celiac disease and he's one of the reasons we here at Dr. Gourmet started our section for those who need to eat gluten-free. We were having dinner together not too long ago, and he said that one thing he really missed, besides pizza, was stuffed pasta dishes. Sure, the gluten-free pastas he could make at home were good, but on top of not being able to go to Italian restaurants, he couldn't even find gluten-free shells suitable for stuffing.
Fortunately I was at Winn-Dixie the other day and noticed the Caesar's Pasta Specialties in their frozen foods section. A couple of years ago we reviewed their gluten-free cheese and vegetable lasagnas, which were really good. Pricey, but good. In the past we'd looked at the two meals we're reviewing today and passed on them because the amount of sodium in them is on the high side, but after my friend lamented his lack of stuffed pastas I thought we'd try them. (Remember: "We eat it, so you don't have to.")
First we tried the Stuffed Shells with Marinara Sauce. These are about five or so medium-sized shells stuffed with ricotta, parmesan and spices in a tomato sauce topped with mozzarella. And it's good! Really good! The tomato sauce is bright and flavorful and just a little sweet. There's plenty of cheese stuffed into these shells with a good ricotta and herb flavor. The rice pasta is a little on the gummy side, but not too much so, and holds up surprisingly well to cutting. Rice pasta has a tendency to shatter after cooking, which is why I prefer quinoa pastas, but these shells work well. This dish would make a great dinner meal: it's 370 calories with 3 grams of fiber and 660 milligrams of sodium. I did say that the sodium was on the high side, but it's not surprising considering that ricotta and parmesan are fairly salty cheeses. Have this with a side salad and you'll be having a great dinner, whether you need to eat gluten-free or not.
We expected the Manicotti with Marinara Sauce to be essentially the same dish, but it's not: the pasta sauce with this meal is just as tomatoey and flavorful, but less sweet than in the Stuffed Shells. The single manicot ("manicotti" is the plural) is a different pasta than the shells and shatters quite easily into bits once you start cutting into it. It doesn't really matter, though, as it's not as important for this pasta to retain its shape as it would if it were, say, spaghetti or farfalle.
What makes this dish even better than the Stuffed Shells is that there's more of the delicious cheese stuffing, which is the same as that in the Stuffed Shells. Once again this comes topped with mozzarella and would make a great dinner meal: 390 calories with 640 milligrams of sodium and 3 grams of fiber.
It would be great if Caesar's Pasta Specialties would make their shells available to stuff and serve at home, but in the mean time, enjoy some stuffed pastas!