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Stuffed Shells are the ideal comfort food dinner for those of us whose love language starts with cheese and ends with carbs. Yes, we sneak in some spinach, but it’s really all about that creamy ricotta cheese filling tucked into the pasta shells.

a pan of cheesy stuffed shells with ricotta, spinach and mozzarella

Why You’ll Love This Stuffed Shells With Ricotta Recipe

  • An Italian-American Classic. Let’s be real: this is not Pasta Fagioli or Chicken Cacciatore. This is Italian food with an American spin—the Italian food your mom makes for a weeknight dinner or that gets served at restaurants that have glass shakers of oregano, grated Parm, and red pepper flakes on the table. It’s rich, cheesy comfort food that everyone loves.
  • Makes a Big Batch. This stuffed shells recipe serves 6 adults, but if you’ve got young kids in the family or you serve the shells with a side dish (ideas below!), you can comfortably get 8 servings out of a pan. Like Vegetable Lasagna, leftovers reheat fabulously!
  • Freezer Friendly. Not only are leftovers delish, this is also a great meal to intentionally make to freeze for another day. Your neighbor who’s about to give birth to twins? She’ll appreciate a pan of spinach stuffed shells to stock in her freezer. (Send her a batch of Vegetarian Enchiladas and check out these other freezer-friendly recipes too.)
spinach stuffed shells on plate

How to Make Stuffed Shells

The Ingredients

  • Large Shells. AKA jumbo pasta shells. I recommend cook a few extra just in case some tear.
  • Frozen Spinach. Spinach has a mild flavor and it’s tender when cooked, so it’s a great way to work in some veggies without fundamentally changing the overall dish.
  • Ricotta Cheese. You can use whole milk or part skim.
  • Shredded Whole Milk Mozzarella Cheese. Both soft, fresh mozzarella (the kind you use in Caprese Pasta Salad) or a firmer block will work. 
  • Parmesan. I recommend using fresh Parmesan. Freeze the rind to use in your next batch of Minestrone Soup.
  • Egg. The egg is a key supporting player in the making of stuffed shells. It gives the filling some body, so it doesn’t ooze out all over when you cut your fork into a shell.
  • Garlic. This is Italian food, after all.
  • Ground Nutmeg. Nutmeg brings out the best in spinach and also in cheesy dishes. It may seem unexpected, but it’s a natural addition to this recipe.
  • Marinara Sauce. Preferably basil or garlic. Use a high-quality brand like DeLallo or Rao’s for the best stuffed shells.
  • Fresh Basil. For an herbaceous finishing touch.

The Directions

pasta shells on baking pan
  1. Cook the Shells. Boil in salted water until they’re al dente.
thawed spinach in bowl
  1. Squeeze the Spinach Dry. You don’t want extra water in your filling or the stuffed shells can get soggy.
ingredients for stuffed shell filling in bowl
  1. Put the Filling Ingredients in a Big Bowl. Save some cheese for sprinkling on top.
ricotta filling for stuffed shells
  1. Combine. Use a fork to break up the egg and make sure everything is evenly distributed.
filling pasta shells with spinach ricotta mixture for stuffed shells
  1. Fill. Pipe or spoon the ricotta filling into the pasta shells.
overhead view of stuffed shells in baking dish before topping
  1. Arrange. Set the shells in a baking dish with 1 cup of marinara on the bottom.
stuffed shells in baking dish before adding cheese on top
  1. Finish. Spoon the remaining sauce over the tops and add the Parmesan. Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees F for 25 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 10 minutes. Let the stuffed shells cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then garnish with basil and ENJOY!

Recipe Variations

  • Stuffed Shells With Meat. Add browned ground beef, ground turkey, or crumbled Italian sausage to the ricotta filling.
  • Stuffed Shells With Cottage Cheese. If you’re emotionally prepared to see your Italian Nonna cry, you can use cottage cheese instead of ricotta (it’s what I grew up using!). I recommend giving it a good blitz in a blender or food processor to make it smooth.
  • Stuffed Shells With Roasted Broccoli. This one’s a little out of left field, but stick with me! Make roasted broccoli, chop it up, and fold it into the ricotta filling with chopped kalamata olives. It’s super good.
easy stuffed shells in baking dish

Storage Tips

  • To Store. Refrigerate leftover stuffed shells in an airtight storage container for up to 4 days.
  • To Reheat. Warm up leftovers in a baking dish covered with foil at 350 degrees F in the oven.
  • To Freeze. Freeze in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating according to the instructions above.

Meal Prep Tip

You can assemble spinach and ricotta stuffed shells all the way up to the point of baking and store them in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. If you freeze them, let them thaw in the refrigerator and then bake according to the original recipe instructions.

What to Serve with Stuffed Shells

overhead view of ricotta stuffed shells in baking dish

Recipe Tips and Tricks

  • Salt the Water. The simple secret to spectacular pasta. By adding salt to the pasta water, you’re seasoning the pasta from the inside since it absorbs the cooking liquid. It really does make a difference.
  • Keep the Shells From Sticking and Tearing. Cook your pasta shells in the biggest pot you have. Giving them more room when they cook can eliminate a lot of problems with tearing and sticking. After draining the pasta, drizzle with olive oil and gently toss to coat, which also keeps the pasta from sticking.
  • Grate Your Own Cheese. It’s tastier, meltier, and will make your spinach stuffed shells that much better. 
  • Broil for an Extra Brown Top. If you like your cheese and the edges of the pasta shells a little bit crisp, you can broil the stuffed shells for a minute or two at the end of cooking time. Just keep a close eye on them so they don’t burn!
overhead view of spinach stuffed shells in baking dish

Stuffed Shells

5 from 4 votes
Spinach stuffed shells with ricotta cheese and marinara are classic Italian-American comfort food. A freezer-friendly recipe that's easy too!

Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Total: 1 hour 15 minutes

Servings: 6 servings

Ingredients
  

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for pasta water
  • 20-25 large shells I used one 12-ounce box and had some leftovers
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil plus more for pasta
  • 1 (10-ounce) package chopped frozen spinach
  • 1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese whole milk or part skim
  • 1 cup shredded whole milk mozzarella cheese about 4 ounces
  • 1 1/2 cups finely grated Parmesan divided
  • 1 large egg at room temperature
  • 3 garlic cloves minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 (15-ounce) jar good quality marinara sauce (preferably basil or garlic flavored), divided (I like DeLallo or Rao’s)
  • Fresh basil thinly sliced, for serving

Instructions
 

  • Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 375°F.
  • Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil and cook the shells according to the shortest time on the package instructions for al dente (mine cooked for 8 minutes). Drain, return to the pot, and toss with a drizzle of olive oil to prevent sticking.
  • Meanwhile, place the spinach in a large microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring every minute, until completely thawed. To the bowl, add the ricotta, mozzarella, ½ cup of the Parmesan, the egg, garlic, salt, and nutmeg.
  • In an 9×13-inch baking dish, spread 1 cup of the marinara sauce in an even layer. Working with one shell at a time, stuff each shell with the cheese mixture. Don’t worry if one breaks, you’ll have extra. Arrange the stuffed shells in an even layer in the baking dish.*
  • Pour the remaining sauce over the shells and sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup Parmesan. Cover the dish with aluminum foil. Bake for 25 minutes then remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes, until the cheese is melty and golden.
  • Remove from the oven, cool for 5 to 10 minutes, garnish with fresh basil and serve warm.

Notes

  • TO STORE: Refrigerate leftover stuffed shells in an airtight storage container for up to 4 days.
  • TO REHEAT: Warm up leftovers in a baking dish covered with foil at 350 degrees F in the oven.
  • TO FREEZE: Freeze leftovers in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating according to the instructions above.

Nutrition

Serving: 1(of 6)Calories: 442kcalCarbohydrates: 30gProtein: 28gFat: 24gSaturated Fat: 13gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0.003gCholesterol: 99mgPotassium: 563mgFiber: 3gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 6529IUVitamin C: 8mgCalcium: 621mgIron: 3mg

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Erin Clarke

Hi, I'm Erin Clarke, and I'm fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food that's affordable, easy-to-make, and best of all DELISH. I'm the author and recipe developer here at wellplated.com and of The Well Plated Cookbook. I adore both sweets and veggies, and I am on a mission to save you time and dishes. WELCOME!

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12 Comments

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  1. I made this recipe tonight, exactly as the recipe was written. It was perfectly delicious. The entire family loved it! Thank you for sharing your recipe. I wish I could post photos, it was a beautiful meal.5 stars

  2. Delicious! I didn’t add quite as much Parmesan cheese on the top but we still loved it. I prepared it the night before and baked it when I got home from work the next day. Thank you!5 stars

  3. I cooked it today and it turned out amazing! I’ve been using another recipe for years, but this one is so much better. I’m so happy I tried your recipe. The only modification I did was to add a few red chili flakes to the marinara sauce for some extra kick. Superb!5 stars

  4. Good morning my dear Erin! I soo appreciate all your recipes and I thank you for sharing your talent with us.
    A question…can I sub fresh spinach for frozen? If so, how? Thx in advance.

  5. I am so hungry for this. I am going on a lady’s weekend trip and want to make this for our supper. Can I make up until the baking step and refrigerate until time to bake? Thanks!

    1. Hi Beth! Yes! You can assemble the stuffed shells all the way up to the point of baking and store them in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. enjoy!

  6. I made this for my Italian husband’s birthday. We usually put Italian seasoning in our ricotta mixture, but I followed the recipe and it was really good! He loved it, I am glad I have some leftovers. Thank you so much for sharing.5 stars