These ricotta and spinach stuffed shells are packed with flavour and so easy to make. Giant pasta shells are stuffed with a tasty ricotta and spinach filling. The shells are then topped with mozzarella and cooked in a rich tomato sauce. This is such a great vegetarian dinner and a firm family favourite in my house!
I've been making this dish for some time now and it quickly became one of the most requested dinners in my house, everyone loves this. It's cosy, tasty and filling.
The giant past shells are filled with a delicious spinach and ricotta filling. They are placed on a rich and tasty tomato sauce then topped with mozzarella and cooked in the oven until the cheese is golden and the sauce is bubbling. Perfect cosy comfort food!
These 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.
Why You'll Love This Recipe
- Giant Cheese Stuffed Shells - I mean what's not to love? Giant pasta shells stuffed with the best cheesy filling, will satisfy all pasta lovers, trust me!
- That Ricotta and Spinach Filling - it's cheesy, with a hint of garlic and plenty of spinach. But don't worry even spinach-hating kids love this!
- The BEST Tomato Sauce - this homemade tomato sauce is deliciously rich and tangy and perfect for these stuffed shells.
- Tomatoes - I use two cans of chopped (diced) tomatoes, you can use pasatta if you prefer. I like the sauce to be on the chunky side so prefer chopped tomatoes.
- Onion - One large onion is perfect for this sauce, I use brown onions and they should be chopped finely.
- Pasta - You will need giant pasta shells for this dish, also known as Conchiglioni. You should find these shells in most large supermarkets. I have always found these in Sainsburys (UK) but rarely in Tesco.
- Spinach - I use fresh baby 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 + ⅔ cup or 50g.
- Cheese - You will need, ricotta, mozzarelle and a vegetarian Italian hard cheese such as pecorinio. All the cheese is full fat, it will give you the best results. You can use low fat if you like.
- Other Ingredients - you will also need dried oregano, fresh basil, balsamic vinegar, tomato puree, olive oil, garlic, grated nutmeg and salt and black pepper.
How to Make Vegetarian Stuffed Shells
1. 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. Leave it to cool then squeeze as much water out of it then roughly chop it.
2. 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 half 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. Stir in the tomato puree and balsamic vinegar. 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.
3. Add the ricotta, peccorini, spinach, galric and a small pinch of nutmeg to a large mixing bowl and mix well.
4. 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, some grated peccorino then bake until the cheese is golden and the sauce is bubbling. Leave to cool slightly before serving.
- Sauce - We like the sauce on the chunky side but you can blend the sauce if you want a smoother sauce.
- 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.
- Cook your spinach first - It's important to cook the spianch and squeze out as much water as you can. If you don't do this this it will make the pasta soggy. 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 ⅔ of a cup more than stated in the recipe.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Add more vegetables - This is a great recipe for adding in more veggies, you could try adding in some chopped cooked mushrooms, courgette or peppers. Or try my Butternut Squash Stuffed Shells for a tasty but differnet take.
- Add more protein - try adding some lentils to the tomato sauce! Red lentils work well but puy lentil will work best.
- Want more cheese? Go ahead and add some grated mozzarella or add some mascapone too!
More Tasty Weeknight Dinners
If you're in need of more pasta inspiration then try my Spinach and Ricotta Pasta Bake, this is such a great weeknight pasta dinner, the whole family will love this one! And if you're a mushroom lover then try my Pasta with Mushrooms and Spinach, this is one of my favourites, it's lovely and creamy and very tasty. And if you're a fan of a good soup then check out my Vegetable Orzo Soup it's filling enough for dinner and very tasty.
Stuffed Shells with Spinach and Ricotta
For the tomato sauce:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium brown onion (150g) finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon tomato puree (paste)
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 2 14.5 oz can of diced/chopped tomatoes (400g)
For the stuffed shells:
- 21 large pasta shells
- ½ tablespoon olive oil
- 6 ½ packed cups of spinach (200g)
- 1 cup of ricotta (1 x 250g tub)
- ⅔ cup of grated mozzarella (1 x140g ball) grated
- 1 clove of garlic minced
- A small handful of basil leaves finely chopped + more for garnish
- ¼ cup of vegetarian parmesan style cheese (50g) finely grated + more for serving
- ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
- Heat the oil in a large skillet or saucepan, add the onion along with a pinch of sea salt 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 two can of tomatoes. Add about ¼ cup of water to each can, give them a little swirl then pour that into the pan too.Finally, stir in the balsamic vinegar, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Add the ricotta, grated pecorino, garlic, chopped basil and salt and freshly grated black pepper to a bowl and mix well.
Assembly and Baking:
- Preheat the oven to 356F/180C
- Fill the pasta shells with the spinach and ricotta mixture. Each shell will take about two teaspoons full. Be careful not to overfill the shells.
- Place the stuffed shells onto the sauce. Sprinkle the grated mozzarella and a little grated pecorino over the shells.Bake uncovered in the oven for 30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, leave to cool slightly before serving.Top with a sprinkling of grated pecorino and scatter a couple of extra basil leaves on top.
- Pasta Shells - Use giant shells, cook them for 5 minutes less than the packet cooking times. Drain and rinse them under a running cold tap. This will cool them so they are easier to handle.
- 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 ⅔ 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.
- Pan - My pan is very large, it measures 28cm/11 inches in diameter and is 7cm/3 inches deep. You can use a large casserole dish if you prefer.
- Nutrition - Based on one serving, nutritional information is approximate and is calculated using an online nutrition tool.
*First posted November 2019, updated October 2022 with new photos and recipe adjustment.