Best Stuffed Shells
These stuffed shells are cheesy, saucy, and stuffed with the most delicious ricotta and spinach filling. I’m in love, and I think you will be, too. Speaking of love, they’re so pretty that you could serve these shells for a romantic Valentine’s dinner at home.
A few more reasons to love this recipe:
- It yields a lot of shells, so it’s perfect for serving a crowd.
- Leftovers are great for lunch, or you can freeze them for later.
- This recipe is relatively easy to make, with minimal chopping.
This stuffed shells recipe features simple and classic Italian ingredients. You’ll need jumbo shells, marinara sauce, ricotta cheese, mozzarella, a little Parmesan, garlic and seasonings.
To make this cheesy dish more redeeming, I added an entire pound of fresh greens! You can use fresh or frozen spinach or kale. The greens yield a gorgeous, vibrant green filling with a lovely, mild flavor. These stuffed shells are honestly the best I’ve ever had, by a long shot. Keep reading for some fun variations and tips.
How to Make the Best Stuffed Shells
This recipe comes together easily, with minimal chopping. You’ll find the full recipe below, but here’s a rundown:
- First, we’ll blanch the greens. This is really easy—just dump them in a big pot of salted water and cook until they’re wilted (about 30 seconds). Using tongs, transfer the greens to a large bowl of ice water. This step preserves their beautiful, bright green color. Once chilled, squeeze all the water out of the greens and set aside.
- Cook the pasta shells in the same pot of water you used for the greens. The water will be a fun shade of greenish yellow, but the pasta will turn out perfectly. We’ll cook the shells until they’re almost al dente—in other words, we want them nicely pliable but not fully tender. They’ll finish cooking in the oven.
- Then, whip up the filling in the food processor. Since we’re blending up the garlic and chives, we don’t need to bother chopping them finely by hand.
- Stuff each shell with a generous spoonful of filling and place them in snug little rows across marinara-lined bakers.
- Spoon marinara sauce over the shells. We don’t need them completely covered. Finish them off with the remaining mozzarella cheese.
- Bake, and serve.
Stuffed Shells Tips
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You’ll need to bust out your largest pot and baking dish for this recipe. Ideally, use a 5.5-quart or larger Dutch oven or stockpot to boil the greens and pasta. Then, you’ll transfer all of the cooked greens to a very large bowl of ice water. Finally, you’ll need an extra-large baker (even larger than 9 by 13 inches) or a combination of two bakers like you’ll see below (say, 9 by 13 and 8 by 8).
The filling comes together nicely in a food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, no problem. Chop up the ingredients (chop the chives and garlic finely, and the cooked greens into very small pieces) and stir the ingredients together by hand.
To save time, use store-bought marinara sauce. My favorites are Rao’s (it comes pretty close to my homemade marinara) or Newman’s Own organic. I try to avoid marinaras with added sugar, since it’s unnecessary. Or, make my homemade marinara sauce the night before (be sure to double the recipe to have enough).
You can also save time (and money) by using frozen greens. Frozen greens are less expensive and work perfectly well for this recipe. Just defrost them in a colander under running water, squeeze out excess water, and it’s good to go.
These shells make great leftovers! Store them in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, or in the freezer for several months.
Stuffed Shell Recipe Variations
I’m completely smitten with this recipe as written below. Here are some fun ways to change it up:
For lighter, less cheesy shells, use half as much mozzarella or omit it completely.
For standard cheesy shells (no greens), double the ricotta, finely chop the chives, press or mince the garlic, and stir the mixture together by hand.
For veggie shells, replace the greens with about 2 cups cooked or roasted vegetables.
For dairy-free or vegan shells, use my vegan sour cream in place of the ricotta, and sprinkle some vegan Parmesan on top. Find more details in the recipe notes.
Please let me know how your shells turn out in the comments. I love hearing from you and hope this recipe is a big hit.
Craving more saucy Italian meals? Here are a few of my favorites:
- Best Vegetable Lasagna or Vegan Lasagna
- Baked Ziti with Roasted Vegetables or Lentil Baked Ziti
- Roasted Ratatouille
- Italian Eggplant Parmesan
- Spaghetti Squash “Pizza” Bowls
I’d serve this recipe or any of the above with my Italian Chopped Salad—even a simplified version would be perfect.
Best Stuffed Shells
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 35 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
- Yield: 8 servings 1x
- Category: Entree
- Method: Baked
- Cuisine: Italian
This stuffed shells recipe features cheesy, saucy shells stuffed with a delicious spinach and ricotta filling. Make these stuffed shells for dinner tonight! Recipe yields about 28 shells, about 8 servings.
- 1 pound (16 ounces) fresh baby spinach or baby kale, or frozen spinach or kale, or 1 ½ pounds Tuscan kale or spinach bunches, washed and stems removed
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 12 ounces jumbo shells
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into several segments
- 15 ounces (or 1 pound) ricotta cheese or cottage cheese
- 8 ounces (2 cups) grated part-skim mozzarella, divided
- ½ cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan, plus extra for garnish
- ¼ cup (⅔-ounce) chives or green onions (mostly green parts), cut into ¼-long pieces
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, to taste (omit if sensitive to spice)
- ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt, to taste
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten with a fork
- 3 cups (24 ounces) marinara sauce, homemade* or store-bought (I used Rao’s)
- Fresh basil for garnish, optional
- Preheat the oven to 375 with racks in the middle and upper third of the oven. Bring a large Dutch oven or stockpot of water to boil over high heat. Generously salt the water (use at least 2 teaspoons). If you’re not using frozen greens, fill a large bowl with ice water for blanching.
- If you’re using fresh greens, add them to the boiling water and cook just until wilted, about 20 to 40 seconds. Using tongs (leave the water in the pot), transfer the greens to the ice bath and let them cool down. Drain off the water and squeeze as much excess water from the greens as possible. Set aside. (If you’re using frozen greens, place them in a colander and run cool water over them until they’ve full defrosted. Squeeze out as much excess water as possible, and set aside.)
- Bring the water in the pot back to a boil. Gently add the pasta shells in handfuls so they don’t break on the way in. Cook until pliable but just shy of al dente, about 10 minutes, stirring often so they don’t stick to the pot. Drain off the water, return the noodles to the pot, and gently stir in the olive oil to prevent the noodles from sticking. Set aside.
- Turn on your food processor and drop the garlic through the feeding tube. Once the garlic is chopped and stuck to the sides of the bowl, stop the machine and scrape down the sides. For good measure, squeeze off any remaining water in the greens, then add them to the bowl. Process until the greens are chopped into small pieces.
- Add the ricotta and process until well blended. Add half of the mozzarella, reserving the rest for topping. Add all of the Parmesan and chives, about 10 twists of black pepper, the red pepper flakes and salt. Blend well. Taste, and add additional salt, pepper or red pepper flakes if desired. Finally, add the egg and process until blended. Set aside.
- If you have an extra-large baking dish (larger than 9×13 inches), spread 1 cup of the marinara sauce across the bottom. Otherwise, divide 1 cup marinara between a large (9×13 inches) and medium-sized baker (say, an 8-inch square). You might need to add another splash of sauce to evenly coat the bottom of the pans.
- Stuff each intact shell with a heaping spoonful (about 1 ½ to 2 tablespoons) of the green mixture. Place each stuffed shell in the baker in rows. (You might have a few leftover or broken shells; save them for another use.) Spoon the remaining marinara sauce over the tops of the shells. Top the shells with the remaining mozzarella.
- Cover the baker(s) tightly with foil and bake on the middle rack for 30 minutes. Then, remove the foil and place the bakers on the upper rack. Bake for 5 to 10 more minutes, until the mozzarella is fully melted and turning just slightly golden (you can bake longer for a more golden effect, but the greens will become less vibrant).
- Garnish the shells with a light dusting of grated Parmesan and some small or torn fresh basil leaves. Leftover shells will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, or freeze them for several months.
Recipe adapted from two New York Times recipes: Stuffed Shells Filled With Spinach and Ricotta by Martha Rose Sherman and Stuffed Shells by Ali Slagle.
*Homemade marinara sauce note: You’ll need to double my marinara recipe to yield enough for this recipe, and then you’ll have extra. If you don’t think you’ll use it up within a few days, you can freeze it for later.
Prepare in advance: You can assemble the shells (through step 7) and store the bakers in the refrigerator until ready to bake. While I haven’t tried freezing the shells, they seem like excellent candidates. Let the frozen shells defrost in the refrigerator before baking. Since they’re starting off cold, they might need a few more minutes in the oven.
Change it up: For less cheesy shells, use half as much mozzarella or omit it completely. For standard cheesy shells (no greens), double the ricotta, finely chop the chives, press or mince the garlic, and stir the mixture together by hand. You could also replace the greens with about 2 cups cooked or roasted vegetables.
Make it egg free: Simply omit the egg. The egg helps the cheese set, but I’ve heard from readers that it turns out well without it!
Make it dairy free/vegan: Double my vegan sour cream recipe, and leave it in the blender. Add the greens, garlic, chives, black pepper and red pepper flakes (hold off on the additional salt). Process until the mixture is pretty well blended, and add salt to taste. Skip the egg. Follow the sauce and baking instructions as written. If desired, garnish with a light sprinkle of vegan Parmesan.