I think I might have just made the ultimate pasta dish... spinach and ricotta stuffed shells!
These huge pasta shells are stuffed with garlicky sautéed spinach and creamy ricotta cheese, doused in a rich tomato sauce, and topped with a melty cheese topping. I really can't think of any better combination - all my favourite things smooshed together.
It's hard to go wrong with a cheesy pasta bake, but this has got to be my favourite one yet.
These stuffed shells have a bit of everything I love.
Spinach and ricotta is a perfectly classic combination (I've used it to make dumplings, stuffed potatoes, and lentil slice, amongst other things...), and when it's contrasted with the tangy tomato sauce, it's just beautiful!
These big pasta shells are the perfect scoops to keep everything contained. They are seriously satisfying to eat.
Plus, they're super simple to make - perfect for a cosy Sunday evening, or to feed your hungry family. This recipe is a definite crowd-pleaser!
❤️ Why You'll Love This Recipe
- It's creamy, it's rich and tangy, it's cheesy, it's gooey, it's hearty and comforting... Seriously, I can't overstate just how insanely delicious these stuffed shells are!
- The recipe is simple and easy to put together, with no unnecessary steps.
- You can speed things up by using a good quality shop-bought sauce - or take the time to make your own from scratch.
- The dish can be prepared in advance if needed, so it's perfect for serving to guests.
- Any leftovers (if you're restrained enough to have them!) can easily be microwaved to reheat, or frozen until needed.
Here's what you'll need to make this recipe:
- large pasta shells - also known as conchiglioni.
- tomato sauce. I used a good quality shop-bought tomato sauce, as I wanted to keep things super simple. If you'd prefer to make your own sauce, I highly recommend my slow cooker tomato sauce, which can be made with barely any effort!
- ricotta cheese
- fresh spinach. You can swap this for frozen spinach, if you prefer.
- egg - to help firm up the creamy filling as it bakes.
- nutmeg. You can skip this if you don't have it to hand, but it does add a really nice warmth to the creamy pasta stuffing.
- parmesan-style cheese. 'Real' parmesan isn't truly vegetarian, as it is made with animal rennet. Make sure you find a vegetarian version (often just called 'Italian hard cheese') instead!
See the printable recipe card below for detailed ingredient quantities.
👌 Top tip
If you can't find large pasta shells in your local supermarket, you can purchase them online - find them on Amazon US / Amazon UK.
Alternatively, you could use another 'stuffable' type of pasta, like cannelloni or manicotti.
🔄 Recipe Changes
There are a few ways you could adapt this recipe to make it just right for you.
- To add some extra veg, try scattering some cooked peas or peppers through the dish with the pasta shells.
- Or, if you chop your vegetables finely enough, you can add them to the spinach and ricotta stuffing. Some finely chopped mushrooms, for example, could be sautéed along with the spinach and garlic.
- Use grated cheddar or mozzarella on top of the shells for an even more melty, gooey finish.
- To make this recipe even quicker to make, you can also easily adapt it to use any other small shape of pasta. Just dollop the creamy spinach filling through the cooked pasta in the baking dish, rather than stuffing the shells individually. It will all taste the same in the end!
Here's how to make these tasty stuffed shells - see below for the printable recipe with detailed ingredients and instructions.
Step 1: Boil the pasta shells according to the instructions on the packet.
These large shells have a habit of getting cupped together in the pan (spooning in a little pasta cuddle), so poke them around a bit with a fork to make sure they're all totally separate as they cook.
Step 2: Sauté the spinach with some garlic.
Fresh spinach is notorious for cooking down a lot, so you have to use quite a large quantity to begin with. You can add it to the pan a little at a time if it's in danger of spilling over!
Step 3: When the spinach is cooked, combine it with the ricotta cheese, some grated parmesan, and an egg. I like to add a little ground nutmeg too, as well as plenty of salt and pepper.
Step 4: Stuff the spinach and ricotta mixture into the cooked pasta shells, and place them into a baking dish.
It's no problem if the stuffed shells need to be stacked on top of each other - and please don't be too tidy about it! This doesn't need to take all day. It will end up tasting the same, no matter how messy you're being.
👌 Top tip
Add a thin layer of tomato sauce to the bottom of the baking dish, underneath the pasta. This will prevent the pasta from sticking to the dish, and also ensures that you get some tomatoey flavour throughout every bite.
Step 5: Top the shells with the remaining tomato sauce and grated parmesan. Cover the dish with a lid (or some kitchen foil, if you don't have a suitable lid), and bake until everything is piping hot and the cheese is nice and gooey.
💭 Stuffed Shells FAQs
Yes - you can prepare everything in advance, but stop just before baking it. The prepared dish can be stored in the fridge for a day or two, then baked when you're ready to serve. If you're using a baking dish that's cold from the fridge, make sure you don't preheat your oven - allow the dish and the oven to warm up slowly together, to prevent any breakages.
Yes - pasta bakes generally freeze really well! Just transfer any leftovers to an air-tight container, and freeze. I would recommend defrosting the dish first, then reheating in the microwave to make sure it stays moist.
Any 'stuffable' pasta shape, like cannelloni or manicotti, can be used in place of the conchiglioni in this recipe. Alternatively, you can even use any smaller pasta shape, and skip the 'stuffing' step. Just dollop the spinach and ricotta mixture around the dish, along with the cooked pasta.
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📖 Printable Recipe
Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells
If you've cooked this recipe, don't forget to leave a star rating!Print Pin Comment
- 200 g (~ 7 oz) large pasta shells (conchiglioni)
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 200 g (~ 7 oz) fresh spinach, roughly chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 250 g (~ 1 cup) ricotta cheese
- 100 g (~ ½ cup) finely grated vegetarian parmesan-style cheese
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 250 g (~ 1 cup) good quality tomato pasta sauce
- Fresh parsley or basil, to serve (optional)
- Boil the pasta shells in plenty of water until cooked al dente. Make sure the shells don't interlock in the pan, otherwise they won't cook evenly.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat a dash of oil in a frying pan. Add the roughly chopped spinach and the chopped garlic, and cook over a medium heat for a few minutes, until the spinach has wilted and any excess liquid has cooked off. If you have a small pan, you can add the spinach a handful at a time, and then add more as it starts to cook down.
- When the spinach has all wilted, add it to a mixing bowl, along with the ricotta cheese, half of the parmesan (hold back the rest for topping), the egg, nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly to combine.
- Spread about a third of the tomato sauce into the base of a baking dish - mine measured approximately 8 x 8 inches.
- When the pasta is cooked, drain it, and rinse the shells under cold water until they are cool enough to handle. Stuff each shell with about a teaspoon of the spinach and ricotta mixture, and place it in the dish on top of the tomato sauce. It's fine if the shells overlap, or if you need to make two layers. There's no need to be too neat about it.
- When you have used up all of the pasta shells and the stuffing mixture, top with the remaining tomato sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan.
- Cover the dish with a lid (or some kitchen foil, if you don't have a lid), and bake at 190°C (Gas Mark 5 / 375°F) for around 20-25 minutes, or until everything is piping hot and the cheese topping is melty. Serve topped with fresh herbs, if desired.
Nutritional information is approximate, and will depend on your exact ingredients. Please calculate your own nutritional values if you require accuracy for health reasons.
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