Easy Stuffed Shells Recipe
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Stuffed Shells filled with four cheeses and spinach are a delicious homemade meal that will satisfy any craving for melty, cheesy comfort food. This easy Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells recipe is make-ahead and freezer friendly. Make a big batch to enjoy stuffed pasta shells today and freeze the rest for later.
I’m all for getting the most out of my cooking. I love it when I find a recipe that not only feeds my family for two nights in a row, but also freezes well. Investing time in the kitchen is even more rewarding when there is a big payoff, and a quick meal that just needs heating up on a busy weeknight is a pretty big payoff.
Like my best Lasagna Recipe, this stuffed shells recipe makes enough to serve a crowd or freeze portions for later.
I debated about whether to scale this stuffed shells recipe down to 4 servings, but if I did that you would be left with half of a box of jumbo pasta shells, half a container of ricotta cheese, and half a package of frozen spinach after making this recipe.
It’s much better (and hardly any more effort) to go ahead and stuff the full box of pasta shells. Freezing the extra stuffed shells means that you’ll have a from scratch meal ready to pop in the oven on a busy day.
If you love cheese, then these stuffed pasta shells are for you. They are filled with a mixture of four kinds of cheese and spinach, and then topped with marinara sauce and grated mozzarella. These baked stuffed shells are cheesy, oven-fresh comfort food that you’ll be glad to have on your table.
Why you’ll love this Stuffed Shells Recipe
- The 4 cheese filling is ultra cheesy, yet lighter thanks to cottage cheese which balances out the mozzarella and ricotta cheese. Use low fat or part-skim cheese to lighten the meal even further.
- Spinach adds a healthy dose of vegetables to this pasta dish.
- This recipe saves you time because it makes a lot of shells and it freezes well.
These Butternut Squash Stuffed Shells are another favorite stuffed shells recipe. Spinach Lasagna Roll Ups are another pasta dish with a spinach and cheese filling. Need more ideas for your dinner table? Browse all of my easy dinner ideas for inspiration!
How to Make Stuffed Shells
Here is an overview of the simple steps to make this recipe. You can find the full recipe with ingredient amounts and full instructions in the recipe card at the end of this post.
- Cook the pasta shells.
- Stir together the spinach and cheese filling ingredients.
- Spoon the filling into the shells and put them in a baking dish.
- Top the shells with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese.
- Bake until the shells are hot and the cheese is melted.
Freezer Instructions and Make Ahead
This pasta dish freezes wonderfully. Place the shells in a baking dish and top with the marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese. Once completely cool, cover the dish with a lid or foil and freeze. The unbaked shells can be frozen for up to 2 months.
How to cook frozen stuffed shells
You can thaw the shells overnight in the refrigerator and then bake as directed in the recipe card below, adding about 5 minutes to the bake time. Or, you can bake the shells frozen, directly from the freezer. Frozen shells will take about 15-20 additional minutes to bake in the oven. They are done when they are hot and bubbly.
If you are baking shells straight from the freezer, you may want to add some additional sauce to keep the shells from drying out during the longer bake time. The sauce can be poured on the shells before or after freezing.
You can prepare the shells in advance and refrigerate them in a covered baking dish for one day before baking. You may have to bake the shells for 5 additional minutes if they are cold from the refrigerator.
Stuffed Shells Recipe Variations
- To make stuffed shells with meat, cook 1 pound of ground beef or sausage in a skillet. Add half of the meat to the filling and the other half to the marinara sauce. You may want to reduce the amount of ricotta cheese and/or cottage cheese so that you won’t have too much filling.
- If you prefer, you can substitute more ricotta cheese for the cottage cheese.
- If you don’t care for spinach you can leave it out of the recipe.
- To make this recipe with fresh spinach, first wilt the spinach in a skillet with a little olive oil over low heat. Then squeeze out any excess moisture before adding the spinach to the filling.
- For saucier shells, add more marinara sauce in the bottom of the baking dish and on top of the stuffed shells.
- When boiling the pasta shells, be careful to not over-cook them or they may fall apart when you fill them. Cook them just to al dente, following the minimum cook time listed on the package.
- The easiest way to thaw frozen spinach is to leave it in the refrigerator for 24 hours to thaw. You can place it in a bowl to catch any drips. If you forget to plan ahead (I often do!), you can remove the spinach from the package, place it in a microwave-safe bowl, and thaw it in the microwave using low power or the defrost setting.
- Squeeze out as much moisture as you can from the thawed spinach by wrapping it in a clean kitchen towel and squeezing.
- You can add chopped fresh parsley or basil to the filling or on top of the dish after baking, if desired.
More Favorite Pasta Recipes
Easy Stuffed Shells Recipe
- 10 ounce box frozen chopped spinach
- 12 ounce package jumbo shells
- 15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1 ½ cups cottage cheese
- 1 ½ cups (6 ounces) grated mozzarella cheese (divided)
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 25 ounce jar of your favorite marinara sauce
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and the jumbo shells. Cook according to package directions for al dente. Be careful not to overcook the shells or they may fall apart as you fill them. Drain and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet to cool.
- Meanwhile, defrost the spinach in the microwave. (Alternatively, you can put the spinach in the refrigerator the day before to thaw. Put the spinach in a bowl to catch any liquid.) Using a clean kitchen towel, squeeze out the excess liquid. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a medium bowl stir together the ricotta, cottage cheese, half of the grated mozzarella, Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Stir in the spinach.
- Scoop about 2 tablespoons of filling into each shell and place in a baking dish. (Any size baking dish will work. I usually portion the shells out into a few baking dishes according to how many my family will eat per meal. Directions for freezing extra shells are below.)
- Pour the marinara sauce over the top, and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes; uncover and bake for 5 minutes more until cheese is melted and shells are hot. Serve immediately.
Make Ahead Instructions:
- Shells can be prepared up to the baking step a day in advance. Cover and refrigerate until ready to bake and serve. You may have to add 5 minutes to the baking time for refrigerated shells.
- Alternatively, you can freeze unbaked shells for up to 2 months. Cover the dish with a lid or foil and then place in freezer. Thaw in the refrigerator for a day before baking as directed above.
- Or, you can bake the shells frozen, directly from the freezer. Frozen shells will take about 15-20 additional minutes of covered bake time. They are done when they are hot and bubbly. If you are baking shells straight from the freezer, you may want to add some additional sauce to keep the shells from drying out during the longer bake time. The sauce can be poured on the shells before or after freezing.
- To make stuffed shells with meat, cook 1 pound of ground beef or sausage in a skillet. Add half of the meat to the filling and the other half to the marinara sauce. You may want to reduce the amount of ricotta cheese and/or cottage cheese so that you won't have too much filling.
- If you prefer, you can substitute ricotta cheese for the cottage cheese.
- If you don't care for spinach you can leave it out of the recipe.
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