Fall in love with these stuffed shells that have spinach, marinara sauce, and three kinds of cheese! It's a special classic that will feed a crowd, and they're simple to put together.
The ultimate stuffed shells recipe
These ricotta stuffed shells don't stray too far from traditional versions you may have tried, but they're over-the-top delicious with the perfect blend of Italian herbs and a hint of garlic. I think you'll agree it takes the flavors to the next level!
There's something just so comforting about a baked pasta dish. It's great for a casual meal or even a cozy Sunday supper with close friends and family. I find myself making these stuffed shells over and over since they're totally uncomplicated and have minimal prep time!
Ingredients you'll need
- Jumbo shells - you'll find these oversized shells in the pasta aisle of your grocery store
- Marinara sauce - choose a brand you really enjoy the taste of since it's a big component, or make homemade marinara sauce
- Spinach - it just tastes so good with ricotta cheese. I use chopped frozen spinach, but you can use fresh if you sauté it first.
- Ricotta - I prefer ricotta made with whole milk for ultimate creaminess
- Parmesan - I used this grater for the parmesan cheese. It's important to grate your own cheese for freshness and texture.
- Egg - for binding everything together
- Salt & pepper - be generous with both
- Italian seasoning - it's a dried herb blend that's in one convenient jar. The combination is fantastic in these shells!
- Garlic powder - to amp up the savory flavor even more
- Mozzarella - for that irresistible melty top layer
Can you make stuffed shells ahead of time?
- You sure can! For the fridge, assemble up to step 6, cover tightly with aluminum foil or a lid, and refrigerate. You can prep it up to 2 days ahead of baking it.
- For the freezer, assemble up to step 6, cover tightly, and freeze for up to 3 months. When you're ready to bake it, let the casserole dish warm up on the counter for at least 30 minutes before putting it in the oven so it doesn't crack, and then add on extra baking time. Another 30 minutes or so should do it, but be sure to check the shells are nice and hot before serving. You could also let it thaw in the fridge overnight and then bake the next day.
How to make stuffed shells
This is an overview with step-by-step photos. Full ingredients & instructions are in the recipe card below.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Boil water and cook the pasta shells until just before they're done/al dente. Meanwhile, add the marinara sauce to a 9x13 casserole dish. Drain the cooked shells, discarding any broken ones.
Thaw the spinach and squeeze out the water. Add to a mixing bowl along with the ricotta, parmesan, egg, salt and pepper, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder. Stir it all together until combined.
Stuff each shell with the cheese mixture and place in the baking dish. Top with the mozzarella, cover with foil, and bake! Broil carefully if you like to finish it off, and add fresh basil if desired for a pop of freshness.
Pro tips for filling stuffed shells
- I just used a small spoon to stuff the shells. It can get a bit messy, but that's totally ok! You don't have to be precise.
- Some people find the easiest way is to fill a large ZipLoc bag or pastry bag with the ricotta mixture, snip the tip off, and squeeze the mixture into the shells.
- You could even use a small ice cream scoop with a lever so the filling comes out smoothly and it's nicely rounded.
Substitutions and variations
- Since this is a fairly standard recipe, I don't recommend swapping out the ricotta, but if you absolutely have to, cottage cheese can be a decent substitute.
- If you've got some fresh herbs from the garden, feel free to use those instead of the Italian seasoning.
- You can definitely use fresh minced garlic instead of the garlic powder if you prefer.
- Want to kick it up a notch? Add in some crushed red pepper flakes for a bit of heat!
Leftovers and storage
- They will last 3-4 days in the fridge. Try reheating them slowly (and on a lower heat) in the oven or the microwave.
- You could try freezing leftover shells, but I don't recommend it. In my experience, cooked pasta and melted cheese can get a kind of weird texture after thawing.
What to serve with it
Do you enjoy stuffed shells as much as I do? Let me know in the comments section below!
Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells
- 24 uncooked jumbo shells see note
- 1 (24 ounce) jar marinara sauce
- 16 ounces frozen spinach thawed
- 15 ounces ricotta cheese
- 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1 egg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Pepper to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- For serving: fresh basil and/or chopped parsley optional, to taste
- Preheat your oven to 375F and move the rack to the top third of the oven.
- Boil a salted pot of water and cook the shells al dente according to package directions (be sure to undercook them since they'll cook more in the oven). Once the shells are done, drain them and keep them in your colander/strainer until needed.
- Pour the jar of marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 casserole dish and spread it out evenly.
- While the shells cook, thaw the spinach and squeeze the water out thoroughly. Add it to a prep bowl along with the ricotta, parmesan, egg, salt & pepper, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder. Stir together.
- Using a small spoon, add the filling into each shell and add them one-by-one to the casserole dish.
- Top the stuffed shells with the mozzarella and cover the casserole dish tightly with foil.
- Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and broil for a few minutes to brown the cheese (watch it carefully so it doesn't burn).
- Serve immediately with extra salt & pepper as needed and fresh basil and/or parsley if using.
- Serves 4-6 depending on portion size. 4-5 shells per person is a reasonable portion size, especially if it's served with something else.
- Generally, jumbo shells come in 12 ounce packages. It's a good idea to boil the whole pack (or a few more than the 24 shells the recipe calls for) since some of the shells will break. Also, the actual number of shells you will use depends on how full you stuff them and how many shells you can fit in your baking dish. The size of "jumbo" shells can vary from brand-to-brand.
- You can use fresh spinach if you prefer. Simply sauté 16 oz. of fresh baby spinach in a skillet until wilted, let it cool, and then chop it.
- See blog post for make ahead and freezing tips.
- Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy only and should be construed as an estimate rather than a guarantee. Ingredients can vary and Salt & Lavender makes no guarantees to the accuracy of this information.