Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells
This easy recipe for spinach and ricotta stuffed shells combines three flavorful cheeses, tender garlicky spinach, and homemade or store-bought marinara sauce, all nestled in jumbo pasta shells for a hearty, comforting, and crowd-pleasing vegetarian dinner.
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Who can resist a dish of bubbling, cheesy, pasta goodness? Stuffed shells can be made in endless varieties, but I love this classic American-Italian version the absolute best. Creamy ricotta and mozzarella, tender spinach with a hint of garlic and red pepper, Parmesan and flavorful herbs, all nestled in jumbo pasta shells, topped with marinara, and baked to bubbly perfection.
Who’s coming over to dinner!??
Ingredients and shopping tips
If you can’t make it over to my place, here’s what you’ll need to make these ricotta stuffed shells in your own kitchen. As always, follow the full recipe below for detailed amounts and instructions.
- 1 (12 ounce) package jumbo pasta shells.
- Fresh baby spinach.
- Fresh garlic.
- 1 (15 ounce) container ricotta cheese – either whole milk or part-skim is fine.
- 8 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese – buying a block and shredding it yourself delivers the best texture, but pre-shredded will definitely do in a pinch. Just don’t buy the mozzarella that comes packed in water – it will make the filling soggy!
- 3.5 ounces Parmesan cheese – same deal with the block vs. pre-shredded!
- 1 egg.
- Lemon, for a bit of juice.
- Marinara sauce – 1 large jar of store-bought – or go big and try it homemade! So easy and the taste is amazing!
- Salt, pepper, olive oil, red pepper flakes, dried basil, dried oregano – for sure swap in fresh herbs if you have ’em, but I’ve made these shells many times with dried herbs and it tastes great.
Can I use frozen spinach?
A block of frozen spinach works great in these shells, as well. Thaw it out, drain very well, blot it dry with paper towels, then proceed to sauté the spinach lightly together with the garlic and red pepper flakes.
How to make it
Making stuffed shells might seem intimidating, but they’re actually pretty quick and easy to pull together.
- Cook the pasta shells just to al dente, following the package directions. Tip: Be sure to salt the pasta water – it gives the cooked shells subtle flavor!
- While the pasta shells bubble away, quickly cook the garlic, red pepper flakes, and spinach over medium heat. Sprinkle with a bit of lemon juice.
- Combine the cheeses, egg, and seasonings, then stir in the cooked spinach. Stir well so the mixture is uniform and almost whipped in texture.
- Spread a bit of marinara across the bottom of a 13×9-inch baking dish.
- Spoon or pipe about 2 tablespoons of the spinach-ricotta filling into each cooked pasta shell. Tip: Piping the filling into the shells may seem like an extra step, but in truth it usually saves time and mess. Just scoop the filling into a large ziplock or frosting bag, cut off one corner, pipe and go.
- Nestle all the shells in a large baking pan, cover with the rest of the sauce, sprinkle with cheese, and bake.
Can stuffed shells be made ahead?
Absolutely! Stuffed spinach and ricotta shells are a terrific make ahead dinner, whether you’re stocking the freezer or just trying to get ahead for a busy day.
If you plan to eat them within 1-2 days, prep the filling and stuff the shells, then cover the baking dish tightly in foil and refrigerate until ready to bake. Remove from the fridge while you preheat the oven, top with remaining marinara and cheese, and bake as directed.
How to freeze ’em
Stuffed shells also freeze well for 2-3 months. If freezing, I would prep the dish completely, including the marinara and cheese on top, so that you don’t need to worry about storing those items separately. Cover tightly to avoid freezer burn. Thaw overnight in the fridge, then remove from the fridge while you preheat the oven and bake as directed.
Storage tip: This pan is a great freezer-to-oven option. And while we all try to avoid the sadness of single-use objects, aluminum pans do have a place for serious stocking or delivering a freezer meal to someone in need!
Psst! Looking for more freezer-friendly meals? This freezer round-up on Pinch of Yum is everything.
- Use kale or other dark, leafy greens in place of the spinach.
- For meat lovers, add a bit of crumbled, cooked sausage to the filling mixture, or use a meat sauce in place of the marinara.
What to serve with stuffed shells
Stuffed Ricotta and Spinach Shells
- 1 (12 ounce) package jumbo pasta shells
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- pinch red pepper flakes
- 4 cups fresh baby spinach roughly chopped
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 15 ounces ricotta cheese whole milk or part-skim
- 2 cups 8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese divided
- 1 cup 3.5 ounces shredded Parmesan cheese
- 1 egg
- 2 teaspoons dried basil or 1 tablespoon fresh
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano or 2 teaspoons fresh
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for pasta water
- 10-12 cranks freshly-ground black pepper
- 3 cups about 26 ounces marinara sauce, homemade or store-bought
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, sprinkle with salt, and cook the pasta just to al dente, according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook for 30-60 seconds, just until fragrant. Add spinach and cook for 2 minutes, until the leaves are wilted and bright green. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice, and set aside to cool briefly.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, Parmesan, egg, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Add the spinach and stir well to combine.
- Spread about 1 cup of marinara sauce across the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Spoon or pipe the spinach-cheese filling into each pasta shell. Place the stuffed shells in the baking dish, tucked close together with the open side up.
- Pour remaining marinara evenly on top of the shells, then sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella. Cover the dish with foil, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 10-12 minutes, until the top begins to brown and sauce is bubbling. Serve warm with extra Parmesan and fresh herbs, if desired.
- You may not use all of the pasta shells, but it’s nice to have a few extra in case some break while boiling or being filled.
- The ingredient amounts in this recipe are pretty forgiving; if you have a bit less of one cheese or another, etc., it should still turn out great.
- Piping the filling into the shells may seem like an extra step, but in truth it usually saves time and is less messy. Just scoop the filling into a large ziplock or frosting bag, cut off one corner, and pipe about 2 tablespoons into each shell.
More easy Italian recipes you’ll love
- One-Pan Gnocchi Alla Vodka
- Everyday Italian Salad
- (Seriously!) the Best Italian Salad Dressing
- Cheesy Tortellini Italian Pasta Salad
- Creamy Tuscan Chicken with Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- Creamy Tuscan Tortellini (another stand-out meatless meal!)
- Tuscan White Bean Skillet
- Creamy Crockpot Chicken Gnocchi Soup