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 with Spinach & Ricotta
This recipe comes together easily, with minimal chopping. You’ll find the full recipe below, but here’s a rundown:
- First, 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.
Watch How to Make Stuffed Shells
Stuffed Shells Tips
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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).
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.
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.
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.
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
- Diet: Vegetarian
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 baker 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.
Can’t wait to try this! I don’t have a food processor but I do have a blender. should I use a blender or just mix by hand?
You can try using your blender! Let me know what you think, Arielle.
Claire Van Konynenburg
I made this as written. I split between to 8 by 8 pans, one with marinara and one with bolognese sauce. Really satisfying dinner! Both my meat lovers and vegetarians were happy! The ricotta-spinach filling is perfect! Thanks for another winner!
I’m happy they were such a hit!
Thanks for another winning recipe, Kate! My husband and I are big fans of yours and routinely make so many of your recipes. A few years ago I bought your book and each time I made a recipe, my husband would take a picture to send to his family which inspired his mom to buy your book and she loves it too. For these Best Stuffed Shells I used half ricotta and half cottage cheese, frozen chopped spinach, and Muir Glen roasted tomato sauce. I divided it into small aluminum containers for a multi-freezer meal result. My 3 year old also loved it so this will definitely be in our regular rotation. Thank you for always providing the pro-tips in your recipe notes section. I have come to rely on those.
You’re welcome, Noelle! I’m glad you and your husband were both able to enjoy this one. Thank you for sharing your variation!
I have never tried the blanching of the spinach and WOW love that green pop! These were so yummy, I froze half and was so thankful!
I love it! Thank you for your review, Anneke.
I’m making a few batches for my family this weekend and wondered if I could saute some mushrooms and then put in the processor with the rest of the ingredients. Love your site and use your cookbook all the time. Been a vegetarian since birth and love all these yummy new recipes from you. Thanks a bunch
Hi, sorry for my delay! What did you decide to do?
Hi, thanks for your reply. I ended up sauteing two portobello mushrooms and added them to the processor with the spinach and it turned out amazing. Followed everything else exactly and everyone loved them. Thanks for another great recipe
Why do you need to preheat the oven as the first step? Making the pasta and the filling easily takes 25 -30 minutes after boiling a pot of water. Seems like a waste of energy and a hot kitchen for no reason. Recipe is fire though.
Hi Peter, I find it easiest to do first to make sure it’s preheated and not forgotten. I’ve done that a few times. :) I’m glad you like the recipe.
This was insanely delicious. I made a double batch and thought I was going to freeze one, but we ended up just having it two nights in a row. Thank you!!
Thank you, Angie! I’m glad you loved it.
I’ve made this recipe two times, when we had guests over. It was a hit! I tweaked the recipe a little this time. I like the shells more sauce, so I used plenty of Rao’s marinara sauce on the bottom of the pan and on the top. I don’t have a food processor, so I chopped the spinach after it was cooked, and it worked out well.
I love it, Mary! Thank you for your review.
This was delicious. I used frozen spinach and followed the advice to use RAO’s marinara. I also follwed the advice of tasting the stuffing mixture prior to adding the egg to check seasoning level for your preference. I added more salt :) I definitely recommend this recipe and I’m looking forward to trying more.
Thank you for sharing, Melissa! I’m glad you loved it.
These were absolutely delicious, but that’s not surprising, as every recipe of yours that I try has been fabulous! Mine didn’t turn out as pretty as yours, but still, we loved them!
I’m glad you enjoyed them, Deanne!
As suggested – the best stuffed shells! A favorite for entertaining or to make ahead for the week.
I’ve made this recipe several times and packaged it as a frozen meal for my vegitarian daughter. We all love it! So this time I tried it with your marinara sauce. I grew up making our own spaghetti sauce, stirring for hours. I actually thought the jarred sauce was a little better and obviously a lot less work! Yours was incredible! It goes so well with the stuffed shells but also with homemade fetticini! Thanks for both recipes!
Thank you, Kathy! I’m glad you all enjoy this recipe.
These were so delicious! My husband made himself “uncomfortable” by eating too many, but he just couldn’t stop. I would definitely make these again. Thank you!
You’re welcome, Jamie!
Hey Kate! What an amazing recipe! I wonder if there’s a way to make a plant-based version of ricotta? I watched Dairy is Scary on youtube and it’s totally changed my mind on some things! Have you ever seen it?? I think maybe a pb ricotta can be made from cashews, do you have any recipes on that?? Can’t wait to try it, hard to believe you got so many greens in this recipe!!
This morning I made this recipe of the best shells. My husband currently works from home and I recently retired which gives me the opportunity to try more of these recipes! Since we are both home now we’ve change and I make our heaviest meal for lunch now. So today I made this recipe and the only thing that I did the comments said you could do was added artichokes. All I did was cook them after I chop them up for about six minutes in my pan and put them in the spinach mixture to puree then. I made the mixture and when I tasted it I was like wow this is amazing and I haven’t even put it in the shell or sauce yet. So I stuff my shells put them in the oven. I decided to take hubby down one shell to try prior to us having lunch today at noon because he had come up when I was mixing up the mixture and said the green looks a little weird. Anyhow he took a bite and I know to give him a couple bites before anything critic will come out of his mouth. He took the second bite and he just kept saying wow wow wow do not change a thing. This stuff is awesome I love it. We then sat and had lunch and we both kept raving!!! Amazing job and tomorrow I’ll be making another recipe
Thank you for sharing your experience, Sue! I’m glad he loved this recipe too.
I love your website! I have made the arugula pomegranate salad twice now and I think I am obsessed! Would like to make this next. If I don’t want to do Parmesan do you think I can just do more mozzarella or nutrition yeast instead of the Parmesan? Thank you for your input!
I’m glad you love it, Julia! You can try it, but I’m not sure how it will turn out. Let me know how it works if you try it!
Thanks. I will. I think I will try to make it with mozzarella and ricotta. No nutritional yeast. Thanks again!
Made this tonight and it was very delicious. Thank you for the recipe.
You’re welcome, Shelby! I appreciate your review.
Hi, what do I do with the green onions? I don’t see them mentioned in the directions. Thank you.
Hi Lori! Chives or green onions. Follow step 5 for what it instructs for chives. I hope you enjoy it!
Thank you, Kate. I realized this after I sent my question. I made and froze a big batch of shells to serve to various guests in the coming days. They sure look pretty, but I will have to wait until they are eaten to give you a full report.
I have long loved this recipe, but recently have had to go gluten-free, and I can’t find GF large shells anywhere! So I had to improvise and turned this into a casserole/ziti style dish, just mixing the filling and marinara with chickpea pasta, topping with mozzarella, and baking. It was still just as delicious (though not nearly as pretty)! And my toddler loved it too – which is saying a lot, since mixed-texture dishes can still be a struggle for her. Thanks, Kate, for always making recipes that are easily adaptable!
You’re welcome, Alicia! I appreciate your review and glad these shells are a hit.
I could not find GF shells for a pumpkin ricotta recipe so I used GF lasagna noodles and spread the filling over the whole cooked noodle, then rolled up and placed in pan end up so you could see the filling. It worked great. I’m guessing the shells are best but the lasagna noodles were a good substitute.
Great recipe! I added the juice of half a lemon to this mixture before filling the shells. Really gave it an extra ZING. I definitely suggest it if you try the mixture and think it’s missing that “something.”
I have been apprehensive about making these for a long time for two reasons: 1) They seem time intensive. 2) They might taste like little dairy bombs.
I was SO wrong. They were super easy and I actually enjoyed stuffing the shells. The extra spinach in this recipe is such a healthy addition and they didn’t taste cheese heavy at all. They are so creamy and full of flavor.
I over-stuffed the shells so I could squeeze everything into one 9×13 baking dish…worked out great and made 24. I used the recommended Rao’s sauce…it was excellent!
I am super excited for leftovers tonight!
I’m happy you tried them! Thank you for your feedback, Dave.
Just curious if you think the dish is better with fresh spinach, rather than frozen…or is there a noticeable difference? thanks so much…going to be trying this soon:)
Hi Trish, I recommend this recipe as written. I hope you try it!
Excellent! This recipe is time consuming, but I split up the work – made the filling the day before, cooked the pasta a few hours ahead and stuffed it, then baked when we were ready for dinner! Like others, I couldn’t find jumbo shells so I followed others’ suggestion of rolling it in lasagna. Very very good! I love the flavor of the spinach! I used frozen and it worked great.
I am not a good cook but l gave the stuffed shells a try. To my amazement it turned out delicious. Can’t wait to try more of your recipe ideas.
Hooray! I’m glad to hear that, Dottie.
Barbara Ann Logan
Awesome, awesome, awesome. Another great recipe, thank you.
You’re welcome, Barbara! Thank you for your review.
WOW! This was unbelievably delicious! It was full of flavor, creamy and subtly spicy all at the same time.
Thank you, Katie! I’m glad you love it.
What kind of meat do you serve with the baked shells
Hi Annette, this is vegetarian blog so I can’t speak to that. Sorry!
I can’t find jumbo shells. Could manicotti used for this recipe? If so, change in cooking time?
I’m not sure as I haven’t tried it. If you do, I would be interested to see how it turns out!
Do you think I could make these in my skillet on the stove top? Our oven is broken – tears. Thanks
Hi Collee, I didn’t try it so I can’t say for sure. Sorry!
I recommend this recipe to feed a crowd. I prepped it ahead, wrapped well in aluminum foil and froze. Thawed in the refrigerator, baked and served, and it was a hit! The greens/ricotta filling was good (I used cottage cheese), and I made a dairy-free pan with roasted mixed vegetables. I left off the mozzarella to make it lighter, and made Kate’s vegan sauce for the dairy-free version. Fun to make and easy.
Thank you for sharing, Lori! I appreciate your review.
WHERE CAN I BUY THE LARGE JUMBO PASTA SHELLS I LIVE ON NORTHER BEACHES
HARD TO FIND THEM
Hi Carole, If you can’t find them in your local grocery store, you can try and buy them online. I do know pasta inventory fluctuates a lot and what is offered.
I really like this recipe but what is a good substitute for the ricotta? My husband doesn’t like the texture of it. Thanks.
Hi Sarah, You could try cottage cheese.
This recipe is Divine ! I couldn’t find large shells so stuffed it into manicotti shells…turned out great! My family doesn’t tolerate garlic well, so I sautéed shallots and substituted them and it tasted fabulous.I have found the frozen spinach is just as good and much easier. Thanks for another terrific recipe!
You’re welcome, Lisa! Thank you for your review.
I absolutely love this recipe! My family allows gobbles it down.
For some reason today, I couldn’t find jumbo shells so I had to buy manicotti instead.
Would baking times be the same?
Hi Katie, once you put them in the oven I would think they would be similar. Keep an eye on them at the end and adjust as needed. Let me know how it turns out!
Another delicious recipe from Kate – and Cookie, too! We thoroughly enjoyed these stuffed pasta shells; they truly are the BEST!
I make a lot of your recipes and they are always great. I just had to comment and thank you for your time and effort in creating this delicious recipe.
Truly delicious. We used a mixture of spinach and steamed broccoli in the filling and both the taste and texture were amazing. Thanks for another keeper, Kate!
Made this ‘in advance’ on Wednesday but do not want to bake until Friday night . Hold in fridge or freeze and defrost before baking ? I think 2 days in fridge should be safe ?? Thank you
I find 24 hours in the refrigerator usually works for food to thaw. Let me know if you try it!
You’re not kidding about best!!!! These are amazing!
I’m glad you loved them, Aviva!
I’ve made this recipe as written and it’s great. Tried a few changes tonight because I couldn’t find shells and ended up with a much quicker meal.
I used frozen spinach, microwaved covered in a bowl for a few minutes instead of rinsing and didn’t squeeze out any liquid. I used no boil lasagna sheets and made it a lasagna instead of filling it into shapes. It’s untraditional but the taste was nice and it was in the oven in 30 minutes. I’m a slow cook so that’s huge for me. If adapting to make this in lasagna format, I’d recommend a bit more sauce so you can really get that flavor. Cheers!
Thank you for sharing how you made this, Kat! I appreciate your feedback and review.
Hi! Can I make the filling earlier in the day and fridge it until later in the evening?
I haven’t tired it so I can’t say for sure. If you try it!
Hi , my hubby can’t eat spinach , could u recommend what can I substitute spinach for another green leafy vegetable? Would Basil or parsley taste good instead? Will greatly appreciate your feedback. I plan to make it tomorrow for some guests
You could try kale, but may be more on the bitter side. Let me know if you try it!
Hi can I use Basil or parsley instead on spinach?
That might be overwhelming. You could try another green. Maybe kale, but it may be more bitter. If you try it, let me know what you think.
I couldn’t find jumbo shells. I bought the wrong size bag of spinach I could only locate a smaller food processor. The result of this comedy of errors was a mostaccioli-style blending of the filling with penne and a portion of the Rao’s sauce which – thank goodness – came together in a very pleasing shade of brown. Great, versatile, me-proof recipe that I’ll definitely make again. Thanks for sharing!