Stuffed shells with ricotta and spinach is a beloved baked pasta dish that combines creamy ricotta and fresh baby spinach all nestled within a pasta shell that was literally made to be stuffed. Baked in a healthy dose of red sauce, this is one of those dishes that is sure to satisfy your craving for creamy, crispy, soul-nourishing baked pasta goodness.
Whenever I’m in the mood for baked pasta, I know I have a few options. Baked ziti is the old standby – easy to make with minimal effort, and I usually have rigatoni, penne, or ziti somewhere in the house.
Another option is lasagna, albeit slightly more complicated and really meant to feed a crowd.
But stuffed shells really appeal to my inner-child. Their seashell inspired shape makes them fun to eat, and they’re simple enough to make and get on the table with minimal effort.
Plus, there is enough spinach included to make this healthy-ish, right?
Pasta Shapes for Every Need
If you’re a pasta geek like me, you’ve probably spent some time strategizing over which pastas and sauces work best when paired.
Broader flat noodles like pappardelle or tagliatelle go best with a hearty meat ragu such as Bolognese, while tiny pasta such as acini de pepe or tubetti are meant to be used in soups, like Italian Wedding Soup, or Pasta Fagioli (aka Pasta Fazool).
Lasagna was obviously meant to have a thick layer of creamy ricotta or bechamel sauce slathered all over it.
But shells, well, they are unique in a few ways. First off, there are three different sizes of shells, making them the over-achiever of the pasta world.
Conchigliette are the baby shells best used in soups. Conchiglie are medium-sized and perfect for pasta with pancetta and peas, or pasta e ceci, where the peas or chickpeas almost instinctually nestle their way into the shell crevice.
Then, you have the grand poobah of shells, conchiglione, which are the ones used for this recipe. The jumbo ones, just begging to be stuffed with something cheesy and creamy and baked just until its edges are crispy.
How To Make Spinach Ricotta Stuffed Shells
- Begin by blanching the baby spinach in boiling water for 30 seconds and strain in a fine mesh strainer. Now would also be a good time to begin to boil water for your shells.
- Once cool, remove any excess water in the spinach by squeezing in clean hands. It’s important to get it as dry as possible so the ricotta mixture doesn’t become too runny. Then, give the spinach a rough chop with a knife.
- In a bowl, combine the ricotta, half the grated mozzarella, parsley, baby spinach, and Pecorino Romano cheese. Taste test the mixture and add salt if needed. Then, add two beaten eggs.
- Give the ricotta mixture a gentle mix with a spoon until all ingredients are combined.
- To the pot of salted boiling water (2 tablespoons kosher salt per gallon of water), add your shells and cook until very al dente. Remember that they will also spend time baking in the oven so be sure to not overcook at this step. Strain the shells and allow them to cool before stuffing. At this time, preheat the oven to 400f.
- Once the shells are cool, add the ricotta mixture to a pastry or plastic Ziploc bag.
- To an oven-safe pan or baking dish (don’t use a cast iron pan – I used it for the YouTube video to allow the camera to better see into the pan), add a half-inch thick layer of meat sauce. Begin piping the ricotta mixture to fill the shells. Place each one into the baking dish. Alternatively, you can use a spoon to place the mixture into the shells.
- Once the pan is filled with shells, top the shells with more sauce and the remaining mozzarella cheese. Cover with a piece of parchment paper, then aluminum foil, and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the covering and bake for 15 minutes more until bubbly and crispy. Remove from the oven and let sit for 15-20 minutes before digging in. Enjoy!
What Sauce Should I use for Stuffed Shells?
For this stuffed shell recipe, I used the meat sauce I used in my Pasta Al Forno recipe, but you can certainly make this a vegetarian dish by using a meatless sauce. My favorite meatless red sauce is just a simple marinara and can be made quickly – perfect for a weeknight.
You can also get creative and try different sauces, like bechamel, or Bolognese. Both would be great here!
Serve it with
Stuffed shells also make a great appetizer for holidays like Thanksgiving, Easter, and even Christmas.
And if you’ve got leftover ricotta and want something on the lighter side, check out this ricotta stuffed zucchini recipe.
If you’ve enjoyed this Stuffed Shells with Spinach and Ricotta recipe or any recipe on this site please let us know in the comments. We would love to hear how you did and it’s nice to show others as well. Thanks!
The full YouTube video for this recipe is directly below in the recipe card.
For the ricotta mixture
- 1 pound whole milk ricotta
- 1 pound whole milk mozzarella cheese shredded and divided
- 1/2 cup parsley minced
- 5 ounces baby spinach blanched, water squeezed out, chopped
- 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano grated
- 2 large eggs beaten
- Cook shells until very al dente in salted (2 tablespoons kosher salt per gallon) water. Stir frequently to avoid sticking.
- Strain shells and place on clean kitchen towels. Allow shells to cool before stuffing.
- Preheat oven to 400f. While the shells are cooling blanch the baby spinach in boiling water for 30 seconds. Place the spinach in a fine mesh strainer and squeeze out as much water as possible. Give the spinach a chop and move onto the next step.
- Combine the ricotta, half the grated mozzarella, parsley, baby spinach, and Pecorino Romano cheese. Taste test the ricotta mixture and if desired add a bit of salt. When satisfied with the taste add the 2 beaten eggs and combine.
- Lay a half-inch thick layer of meat sauce onto the bottom of a large baking dish.
- To fill the shells use either a spoon or use a pastry or plastic bag filled with the ricotta mixture. Either pipe or spoon the filling into each shell. Place the filled shells into the baking dish seam side up.
- Top the shells with more of the meat sauce but do not cover completely. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese on top. Cover with a piece of parchment paper then aluminum foil. Bake the shells for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes remove the covering and bake for 15 minutes more until bubbly and crispy. Enjoy!
- For a lighter meatless version use this marinara sauce.
- You might need two baking trays to fit all the shells.
- The 3 kinds of cheese, especially the Pecorino Romano are salty. Therefore the ricotta mixture might not need any extra salt. Make sure to taste test the mixture before adding the egg and if required add salt to taste.
- Boil the shells until very al dente. They will be cooked for 45 minutes longer and will become too soft if cooked all the way prior to baking.
- Serve any extra sauce on the side.
- The stuffed shells can be frozen (works well to freeze them in a foil baking tray)and reheated at 350-400f until hot all the way through.