Giant pasta shells stuffed with a cheesy, spinach and ricotta filling. Topped with mozzarella and baked in a tasty tomato sauce, these stuffed shells are perfect for a great weeknight dinner. This is cosy comfort food that’s mouthwateringly delicious and easy to make!
This is one of my family’s favourite weeknight dinners. I’ve been making it for some time now and it has quickly become one of the most requested dinners, everyone loves this. It’s cosy, tasty and filling and perfect to come to after a long day at work or school.
Stuffed shells are perfect for making ahead, and cooking later. They’re freezer friendly and are great for a weekend meal prep. It’s such a great meal for busy times, just prep ahead then pop it in the oven when you need it!
Ingredients for Stuffed Shells with Spinach
There are two parts to this Stuffed Shells recipe:
- The Sauce: this is the base for your stuffed shells, it’s a basic but tasty tomato sauce. Try and use good quality chopped/diced tomatoes. I always use dried oregano and balsamic vinegar in my tomato sauces, it’s a simple but perfect sauce.
- The Filling: You will need giant pasta shells for this dish, also known as Conchiglie. I use fresh spinach but you can use frozen if you want. If you use frozen you’ll need to use more than the amount listed. I would add another 1 + 2/3 cup or 50g. Try and use a good quality, full-fat ricotta if you can. I use a ball of full-fat mozzarella and grate it myself, it’s so much better than the pre-grated stuff. Fresh basil is best for this recipe, and you will need a good handful of it. Plus more if you want to garnish the finished dish. If you can find good quality vegetarian Italian hard cheese, again it should be full-fat. A generous grating of nutmeg adds a lovely flavour to this filling as does the extra garlic.
How to Make Stuffed Shells with Spinach and Ricotta:
- Start by making the sauce. Cook the onion until it is translucent, then add the garlic and oregano.
- Add the chopped tomatoes to the onions, I always add about 1/2 a cup of water to the can, give it a good swirl then add that to the pan with the tomatoes. This catches any tomatoes left in the can. Leave the sauce to simmer until it reduces. While the sauce is simmering cook the pasta shells until they are just under al dente, about 5 minutes less than the packet cooking time. Drain them then rinse then under the cold tap.
- Pour the tomato sauce into an ovenproof casserole dish. My dish was 30cm/11.5″ x 22cm/9″ x 7cm/3″
- Next, cook the spinach. Wilt the spinach in a pan, you’ll need to add half the spinach first, let that wilt then add the remaining spinach. Squeeze as much water out of the wilted spinach then roughly chop it.
- Add all the filling ingredients into a large mixing bowl and mix well.
- Fill the pasta shells with the spinach and ricotta filling. Be careful not to overfill them. Then place them on top of the sauce. Top the shells with the grated mozzarella, then loosely cover the dish with tin foil and bake.
Top Tips For Making Stuffed Shells:
- We like the sauce on the chunky side but you can blend the sauce if you want a smoother sauce.
- All the cheese in this recipe is full-fat, this will give you the best results. However, you can use half fat cheese if you want, but please note that the results will be different.
- Slightly undercook the pasta, the shells are easier to fill when undercooked, this also stops the pasta from going rubbery when they are baked.
- Cook an extra couple of shells! Shells break and split sometimes, so it’s safer to have a few extra just in case.
- I use fresh spinach for this, I find it gives the best results. You can use frozen if you want though, you will need to add about 50g or 2/3 of a cup more than stated in the recipe.
- To retain the moisture in the sauce and not dry out the shells I cover the dish with tin foil when it’s baking. I remove the foil 10 minutes before the end of cooking to finish the dish.
What to Serve with Stuffed Shells
If we’re having this during the week we usually have garlic bread with it. If we’re going all out for an Italian feast or dinner party I’ll serve some Tomato Bruschetta to start along with a nice crisp salad. And to finish, a lovely Spiced Pear Crumble.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Can I freeze this dish? Yes, you can. Fill all the shells with the spinach and ricotta mixture. Place the filled shells on a large sheet pan. Tightly cover with plastic wrap and then foil and allow to freeze completely. Once frozen, transfer the shells to large freezer bags. Remove any air and return to the freezer. You can freeze these stuffed shells for up to 3 months.
Can I cook these from frozen? Yes, just add the sauce above or the equivalent of your favourite pasta sauce, to a casserole dish, then place the frozen shells on the sauce. Bake uncovered at 200C/392F for about 30 minutes, making sure the shells are piping hot, then add the grated mozzarella and bake for another 5 – 10 minutes. I don’t recommend freezing this dish after cooking.
Can I make this ahead? Yes, this is a great dish for making ahead! You can make the sauce up to 3 days in advance or if you’re stuck on time, use your favourite store-bought sauce. Keep the sauce in the fridge, in an airtight container, until you are ready to use it. The filling can be made the day before, again keep this in the fridge until ready to use. The entire dish can be made completely up until the baking stage, just cover the dish tightly with foil and leave it in the fridge for up to 3 days. Pop it in the oven and bake it, it may need an extra 5 to 10 minutes, so make sure and check it halfway through cooking.
Need More Tasty Weeknight Dinners?
- Vegetable Orzo Soup
- Vegan Massaman Curry
- Chickpea and Lentil Curry
- Spinach and Ricotta Pasta Bake
- Pasta with Mushrooms and Spinach
Did you make this Stuffed Shells recipe? Rate it and leave a comment below to let me know what you think!
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For the tomato sauce:
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium brown onion (150g) finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic minced
- 1/2 tbsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp cracked black pepper
- 1 14.5 oz can of diced/chopped tomatoes (400g)
For the stuffed shells:
- 21 large pasta shells
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 6 1/2 packed cups of spinach (200g)
- 1 cup of ricotta (1 x 250g tub)
- 2/3 cup of grated mozzarella (1 x140g ball) grated
- 1 clove of garlic minced
- A small handful of basil leaves finely chopped + more for garnish
- 1/4 cup of vegetarian parmesan style cheese (50g) finely grated + more for serving
- 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp cracked black pepper
- Heat the oil in a large skillet or saucepan, add the onion and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. The onion should be translucent and a little bit springy. Next, add the garlic and dried oregano and cook for a minute, until the garlic releases its aroma.
- Now pour in the can of tomatoes. Add about 1/2 a cup of water to the can, give it a little swirl then pour that into the pan too.Finally, stir in the balsamic vinegar then reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Leave the sauce to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has reduced slightly. 15 minutes should do it.
Spinach and Ricotta Filling:
- Cook the pasta shells in a large pan of well-salted water until it is al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander then rinse the pasta under the cold tap.
- Heat half a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet. Add half the spinach, stir it until it wilts then add the remaining spinach. Keep stirring until all the spinach has wilted.
- Once all the spinach is wilted remove it from the pan, and leave to cool slightly. Once cooled squeeze as much liquid out of the spinach as you can. Then roughly chop the spinach and add it to a large mixing bowl.Add the remaining filling ingredients to the bowl then stir well.
Assembly and Baking:
- Preheat the oven to 356F/180C
- Pour the tomato sauce into an ovenproof casserole dish.
- Fill the pasta shells with the spinach and ricotta mixture. Be careful not to overfill the shells.
- Place the stuffed shells onto the sauce. Sprinkle the grated mozzarella over the shells.Loosely cover the dish with tin foil and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the foil then bake for another 10 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and top with a sprinkling of grated veggie parmesan and scatter a couple of extra basil leaves on top.
- Pasta Shells - Use the giant shells, cook them for 5 minutes less than the packet cooking times.
- Spinach - I use fresh spinach but you can use frozen if you wish. You will need to immerse it in hot water for a minute then drain and squeeze any excess water. You will need about 50g or 2/3 of a cup more than the recipe indicates.
- Ricotta - Look for good quality ricotta, some cheaper brands can be very grainy to bear that in mind.
- Storing - This will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days. Cover it tightly then reheat in the microwave.
- Freezing - Freeze this dish uncooked. Do not bake then cover, cool, label and freeze. Freeze for up to 3 months. This can be cooked from frozen. Pop it in a preheated oven 200C/392F covered for 30 minutes. Remove the foil then cook for another 5 - 1o minutes.
- Casserole Dish - My casserole dish was 30cm/11.5" x 22cm/9" x 7cm/3"
- Nutrition - Based on one serving, nutritional information is approximate and is calculated using an online nutrition tool.