Ricotta and Spinach Stuffed Shells

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Ricotta and Spinach Stuffed Shells — Jumbo shells are stuffed with a mixture of creamy ricotta cheese, fresh spinach, grated Parmesan, and dried herbs before being topped with marinara sauce and mozzarella! This easy, CHEESY recipe is great for both weeknight dinners and holiday entertaining! No one can resist shells stuffed with three types of cheese, and even picky eaters won’t mind the spinach! 

A baking dish with freshly baked stuffed shells topped with melted cheese and herbs.

This spinach stuffed shells recipe is a family favorite Italian comfort food recipe that everyone loves! 

Jumbo shells are cooked until al dente, then stuffed with a mixture of ricotta, Parmesan cheese, spinach, and a blend of dried herbs. They’re topped with a generous layer of mozzarella and marinara sauce before being baked until golden brown and bubbling.  

A dish of baked pasta with melted cheese being pulled with a fork, showcasing its gooey texture.

Stuffed shells are easy enough to prepare for weeknight dinners, but they’re also great for dinner parties and holiday entertaining. No one can resist pasta that’s loaded with three kinds of cheese! 

To save time, I used my favorite store-bought marinara sauce to make this recipe. However, if you have a tried and true marinara or bolognese sauce recipe that your family loves, feel free to use that instead. 

A plate of stuffed shells garnished with herbs in a tomato sauce.

Pair the ricotta and spinach stuffed shells with steamed or roasted veggies, a basic house salad, or cheesy garlic bread for a simple yet unforgettable Italian feast! 

A fork lifting a cheesy stuffed shell out of a baking dish with marinara sauce.

Ingredients for This Recipe 

You don’t need many ingredients to make simple stuffed shells with spinach and ricotta. Here’s what you’ll need: 

  • Jumbo shells 
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic 
  • Fresh baby spinach
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Parmesan cheese 
  • Egg
  • Salt and pepper 
  • Dried herbs (parsley, basil, oregano)  
  • Marinara sauce (store-bought or homemade; bolognese sauce works too!) 
  • Shredded mozzarella cheese 
  • Fresh parsley or fresh basil, optional, for garnishing
Ricotta and Spinach Stuffed Shells — Jumbo shells are stuffed with a mixture of creamy ricotta cheese, fresh spinach, grated Parmesan, and dried herbs before being topped with marinara sauce and mozzarella! This easy, CHEESY recipe is great for both weeknight dinners and holiday entertaining! No one can resist shells stuffed with three types of cheese, and even picky eaters won’t mind the spinach! 

Note: Scroll down to the recipe card section of the post for the ingredients with amounts included and for more complete directions.

How to Make Ricotta and Spinach Stuffed Shells 

Stuffing jumbo pasta shells one by one takes a little extra TLC than your average pasta casserole, but the resulting golden brown shells oozing with cheese are worth it! 

Let’s review the basic steps to making this comfort food recipe: 

  1. Spray a 9×13-inch baking dish with non-stick spray. Spoon a little marinara sauce into the bottom of the dish to create a thin layer. 
Marinara sauce spread in a white baking dish with a spoon.
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then add the jumbo shells. Cook according to the package instructions just until al dente, then drain. 
Cooking pasta: jumbo shells being poured into boiling water in a steel pot.
  1. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and spinach, then cook just until the spinach wilts. 
  2. Let the wilted spinach cool completely before wringing out the excess liquid or moisture (I use clean paper towels to do this). Then, roughly chop the spinach. 
  1. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the ricotta, Parmesan, egg, salt, pepper, and dried herbs. 
Ingredients for filling stuffed shells in a glass bowl, including an egg, chopped greens, cheese, and spices.
  1. Fill each jumbo shell with the ricotta filling. Place into  the prepared 9×13-inch baking dish. 
  2. After all the shells have been filled and added to the baking dish, top with remaining marinara sauce and sprinkle on the shredded mozzarella cheese. 
  1. Bake the spinach and cheese stuffed shells until the cheese is melted and the edges are bubbling. 

Assemble -> Refrigerate -> Bake!

Wondering if you can assemble this ahead of time (such as the night before) and refrigerate it before baking off? The answer is yes, you can! This is especially handy if you’re going to serve this dish for an event or if you have company coming over.

Follow the recipe exactly as written, up to the point that you’d bake it. Stop there, cover tightly with foil, and refrigerate for up to about 24 hours ahead of time. If I am doing it this way, I do it the night before my event, and that way the next day all I have to do is bake it off.

Take the casserole dish out of the fridge though a good 30-45 minutes before you bake it since that very cold dish will slow down baking time otherwise.

Make-Ahead Instructions – Freezer Storage

Spinach ricotta stuffed shells are a fantastic make-ahead dinner that you can keep stashed in your freezer until you’re ready to bake and serve them.

You have two options for freezing the assembled stuffed shells: 

  1. Freeze fully assembled in the sauce: Stuff the shells with the ricotta mixture as instructed. Place in a freezer-safe baking dish, top with marinara sauce and mozzarella, then wrap the entire pan with a layer of plastic wrap and a layer of foil. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight before baking as instructed. Note – You will need more room in your freezer if you opt for this option if compared to option 2, below. ⬇️
  2. Freeze just the stuffed shells (without sauce): Stuff the shells with the ricotta mixture as instructed. Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes to 1 hour to harden. Once firm, transfer to a zip-top freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in a baking dish, then top with marinara and mozzarella before baking. 
A dish of baked stuffed shells with melted cheese and tomato sauce in a white casserole.

Tips for Making This Recipe 

Use jumbo shells, not regular shells. Regular pasta shells will be far too small to stuff and won’t work in this recipe. 

Cook the shells just until al dente. You want the cooked shells to retain some bite since they’ll soften further once stuffed with the ricotta mixture and topped with marinara sauce. If you boil the shells until they’re fully soft, they’ll fall apart once stuffed and baked in the sauce.  

Use full-fat dairy products. Now is not the time to cut calories! Full-fat ricotta, Parm, and mozzarella will result in flavorful, creamy stuffed shells. 

Grate the Parmesan yourself. Pre-grated cheeses typically contain an anti-caking agent which makes them less prone to melting. For the smoothest filling, buy a block of Parm and grate it yourself using a box grater. It will take all of 30 seconds to do! 

Using fresh vs dried herbs. If you’re making this recipe around the holidays and have fresh herbs on hand, you’ll need about three times the amount than the recipe calls for (i.e. 1 ½ teaspoons each of fresh parsley, basil, and oregano). 

Adding protein: If desired, you could add 1/2 pound of cooked and crumbled Italian sausage, ground beef, shredded chicken, etc. to the cheese filling. You’ll end up with leftover filling though since the meat will bulk up the recipe!

What to Serve with Stuffed Shells 

Storage and Reheating Instructions 

Fridge: Leftover stuffed shells will last up to 5 days in the fridge if stored in an airtight container, noting that the pasta will soften as it sits in the sauce. 

Freezer: If you want to prep this as a Make-In-Advance freezer recipe, see the above section. Leftovers can be frozen for up to 3 months. 

To reheat: Warm for 30-second bursts in the microwave, or as desired.

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5 from 3 votes

Ricotta and Spinach Stuffed Shells

Jumbo shells are stuffed with a mixture of creamy ricotta cheese, fresh spinach, grated Parmesan, and dried herbs before being topped with marinara sauce and mozzarella! This easy, CHEESY recipe is great for both weeknight dinners and holiday entertaining! No one can resist shells stuffed with three types of cheese, and even picky eaters won’t mind the spinach! 
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 8
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Ingredients  

  • 24 jumbo shells
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 4 cups fresh spinach
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dried parsley
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 ½ cups jarred marinara sauce, from a 24 ounce jar, divided
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Fresh parsley, optional for garnishing

Instructions 

  • Preheat oven to 350F and spray a 9×13 baking dish or casserole dish with cooking spray; set aside. Tip – I prefer a ceramic or porcelain baking dish as opposed to a standard 9×13-inch metal pan, although it will work, noting baking time may be slightly reduced.

Shells

  • To a large pot, add water, bring to a boil, and cook the shells according to package directions for al dente. Likely about 10 to 12 minutes. When they're finished, drain, rinse with cold water, optionally (but recommended) drizzle them with a bit of olive oil so they don't stick, and set aside. While shells are boiling, prep the spinach.

Spinach

  • To a large skillet, add the olive oil, garlic, spinach, and saute over medium heat for about 4 minutes, or until spinach has wilted and garlic is fragrant; stir nearly constantly so the garlic doesn't burn.
  • Turn off the heat, place the skillet on an unused/cool burner, and let the spinach mixture cool for about 5 minutes. When it is cool enough to handle, using paper towels, squeeze out the excess moisture.
  • Place the spinach on a cutting board and finely chop it.

Filling Mixture

  • Place the spinach in a large bowl along with the ricotta, Parmesan, egg, salt, pepper, parsley, basil, oregano, and stir to combine. Taste and if desired, adjust the seasoning balance, adding more salt, pepper, or herbs as desired. Tip – If you have fresh herbs on hand, feel free to use them rather than dried. I suggest about 1 1/2 teaspoons of fresh herbs if you are replacing 1/2 teaspoon dried (which is more concentrated and potent).

Assembly

  • Add about 3-4 tablespoons of marinara sauce to the bottom of the prepared baking dish and smooth to create an thin layer of sauce. Tip – You can use store bought sauce or your favorite homemade marinara or bolognese sauce.
  • Fill each jumbo shell with about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture, placing each filled shell in the prepared pan, until all shells have been filled.
  • Evenly pour about 2+ cups of the marinara sauce over the shells. Note – You may or may not use all 24 ounces of sauce (2 1/2 cups = 20 ounces sauce, plus a few ounces used in the base of the baking dish), but you'll likely come close. It also depends how saucy you like things, so add to taste.
  • Evenly sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the top. If you plan to bake now, skip the Making In Advance section, and just move on to baking.

Making In Advance

  • If you are prepping this in advance (up to 24-48 hours) before you plan to bake it, stop now, cover tightly with foil, and refrigerate.
    You can also freeze this, assembled, before baking it off, noting you need enough space in your freezer to accomodate a casserole dish.
    You can also carefully freeze the stuffed shells in a large ziptop freezer bag, without adding the sauce and mozzarella, just the stuffed shells. This requires less storage space since you're dealing with a bag of shells, not a rigid casserole dish.

Baking

  • Bake for about 30 minutes on the center rack, or until the edges are bubbling, and the cheese is as lightly golden browned as desired. Rotate your pan once midway through baking for the most evenly baked shells.
    Note – If you refrigerated your casserole dish with the assembled shells, marinara sauce and cheese over the shells as a make-ahead option, make sure to take it out of the fridge 30-45 minutes before you plan to bake and let it sit on your counter because a very cold baking/casserole dish will add a lot of unnecessary time to the baking process. If you froze it, thaw thoroughly before baking.

Storage

  • Leftover shells will keep airtight in the fridge for up to 5 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Reheat gently in the microwave for about 30-60 seconds, or as desired.

Notes

Spinach – Do not use frozen spinach because there’s too much water that’ll be released when it thaws. Fresh spinach sauteed with garlic is the way to go. Make sure to wring it a bit with paper towel to prevent the filling from becoming watery. 
Marinara Sauce – To save time, I used my favorite store-bought marinara sauce to make this recipe. However, if you have a tried and true marinara or bolognese sauce recipe that your family loves, feel free to use that instead. 
 

Nutrition

Serving: 3shells, Calories: 312kcal, Carbohydrates: 26g, Protein: 17g, Fat: 16g, Saturated Fat: 8g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 5g, Trans Fat: 0.003g, Cholesterol: 69mg, Sodium: 924mg, Potassium: 468mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 4g, Vitamin A: 2196IU, Vitamin C: 10mg, Calcium: 294mg, Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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Please note: I have only made the recipe as written, and cannot give advice or predict what will happen if you change something. If you have a question regarding changing, altering, or making substitutions to the recipe, please check out the FAQ page for more info.

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