Spinach stuffed shells with ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese. This hearty and crowd pleasing vegetarian pasta dish is easy enough for a week night meal yet impressive enough for guests.
Nothing says love in the wintertime like a cheesy baked pasta dish - they are just a bowl of pure bliss. Carbs, sauce, and cheese are the comfort trifecta around here when it's cold out and meals like this are guaranteed to warm you up and squash those winter time blues.
These spinach stuffed shells are a classic Italian American dish. They take a little bit of time to put together and get the shells all stuffed, but it's really not that difficult and the end result is TOTALLY worth it!
The main work here is making the filling and putting it into the shells which will take about 30 minutes then it's off to the oven to bake. Totally doable on a weeknight when you're craving cheese filled vegetarian comfort food, these stuffed shells are also pretty enough to serve up for a night of easy entertaining.
Why you're going to love this
- Vegetarian - these stuffed shells are a hearty vegetarian dish that are perfect for meat lovers too!
- Family friendly - you can always make everyone happy with pasta!
- Freezable - try making a double batch and popping one in the freezer for later.
- Impressive but easy - stuffed shells are a gorgeous looking dish that will impress any guest, but putting them together takes just a couple of easy steps and a little bit of time.
- Make ahead - these shells can be prepped to the baking point and stored in the fridge until it's time to cook.
- Jumbo shells - just perfect for stuffing with loads of cheese and spinach!
- Tomato sauce - I always use my basic tomato sauce here. It's the most perfect, fresh tasting, easy tomato sauce and I make big batches to always have some on hand.
- spinach and onions - the veggie part of the filling. I've used fresh spinach here, but you can substitute for frozen.
- Ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella - ricotta is the base cheese, but it is a bit bland on it's own. I add mozzarella and parmesan to add more flavour.
- egg - to help hold the ricotta together in the shells.
- lemon juice - to enhance the flavour of the spinach and cheese.
- seasonings - ground black pepper is a must here, and the nutmeg elevates the flavour in a nice subtle way. You can use rosemary if you like, or substitute it for any other Italian herbs you like.
How to make it
1. Boil the pasta. Heat a large of of heavily salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente - about 15 minutes.
2. Cook the spinach and onions. Heat a large skillet to medium heat and add a bit of olive oil. Cook the onions until the are tender (about 10 minutes) then add the spinach and cook until it's wilted.
3. Put the filling together. Add the ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, egg, spinach, rosemary, nutmeg and pepper to a medium size bowl and then mix thoroughly to combine it all. Save a bit of the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses for topping the dish at the end.
4. Fill the shells. Add about a half cup of the sauce to the bottom of your baking dish then begin filling the shells with the ricotta and spinach mixture using a spoon. Continue filling and placing shells in the dish until it is full.
5. Finish the dish and bake. Spoon the remaining sauce over the shells then sprinkle with the rest of the parmesan and mozzarella cheese. Bake until hot and bubbly then serve.
Tips for the best spinach stuffed shells
- Make extra shells - it's common for a shell or two to break during the cooking process. I usually throw in 4 extra shells to be safe.
- Use a quality tomato sauce - this dish is simple and relies on fresh quality ingredients for the best flavor. Make your own sauce if you can (here is my favourite tomato sauce) or invest in a quality brand.
- shred your own cheese - it always tastes better, and it melts better too!
- Pipe the filling in - If you want your stuffed shells to look extra perfect you can place the filling in a piping bag (or plastic bag with the tip cut off) and pipe it into the pasta shells.
Can you freeze them?
Yes! If you want to freeze the dish for another meal, prepare it in a freezer friendly baking dish, cover with foil and freeze. Lift the corners of the foil so the dish can vent steam, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 60-70 minutes. OR remove from the freezer and place in the fridge the night before then heat as instructed.
** be aware that freezing ricotta is ok, but it may change the consistency of it and make it a bit watery.
Can they be made ahead?
Spinach stuffed shells are a great prep ahead dish. Simply prepare the dish up to the baking point and refrigerate until you are ready to bake it. Leave the dish on the counter as the oven heats to let it get to room temperature.
Can you use frozen spinach?
You can substitute the fresh spinach for frozen. Thaw the spinach first, then be sure to squeeze out any excess water from it before mixing it into your filling otherwise it will be watery when baked.
What do I serve with them?
These spinach stuffed shells are an excellent meal on their own, but if you are looking to round out the dish a bit consider some of these sides:
- Garlic bread
- Caesar salad
- Italian Garden salad
- Any of your favourite vegetable sides!
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Three Cheese Spinach Stuffed Shells
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- 16-20 jumbo pasta shells
- 1.5 cups tomato sauce
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion (diced)
- 10 oz fresh spinach (chopped)
- 10 oz ricotta cheese (drained if very wet)
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella
- 1⁄2 cup grated parmesan
- 1 egg
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 Tablespoon diced rosemary
- 1⁄8 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- sea salt to taste
- Preheat your oven to 400
- Lightly boil the shells in a large pot of salted water so they open easily - about 15 minutes. Drain and reserrvefor later.
- Heat a saute pan to medium add the oil and saute the onions and garlic until the are soft - about 10 minutes. Add the chopped spinach and wilt for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat.
- In a large mixing bowl combine the ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan egg, lemon juice, rosemary, nutmeg, ground black pepper and spinach mixture then mix well. Leave a bit of the parmesan and mizzarella cheese out of the filling to top the shells witth.
- Take about ½ cup of the tomato sauce and spread it out across the bottom of a pie plate or similar sized baking dish.
- Using a large soup spoon scoop a heaping spoonful of the filling and put it inside a shell. Place the shell in the dish and continue filling shells and placing them in the dish until they are all filled.
- Drizzle the remaining sauce over the shells and top with the leftover cheese.
- Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.