Cheesy Spinach Stuffed Shells Will Feed You for Days

published Jan 2, 2022
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Spinach Stuffed Shells Recipe

These cheesy vegetarian stuffed shells can be made with either fresh or frozen spinach, depending on what is convenient for you.

Serves4 to 6

Makesabout 20 stuffed shells

Prep35 minutes

Cook33 minutes to 36 minutes

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Spinach stuffed shells in a baking tin, with side plates and spices on the side
Credit: Photo: Eric Kleinberg; Food Stylist: Kristina Vanni

These cheesy stuffed shells are the absolute best kind of comfort food. They’re loaded with a luxe combination of ricotta and mozzarella and a healthy dose of garlicky sautéed spinach, then baked in a bath of marinara sauce and melty cheese. Serve them with a simple green salad and your favorite Italian red, and you’ve got a dinner that’s sure to satisfy.

What’s the Difference Between Stuffed Shells and Manicotti?

While both stuffed shells and manicotti are cheesy filled Italian pastas, they are a bit different.

  • Stuffed Shells: The name says it all: Jumbo pasta shells are par-boiled, then stuffed with cheese (usually ricotta and mozzarella). Sometimes spinach (as it is here) or ground beef is added. The shells are lined up in a baking dish, covered with tomato sauce and cheese, and baked.
  • Manicotti: Instead of shells, long pasta tubes called manicotti are par-boiled and stuffed. The fillings, tomato sauce, and cheese on top are all the same as stuffed shells.

    Get a recipe: Beef and Cheese Manicotti
Credit: Photo: Eric Kleinberg; Food Stylist: Kristina Vanni

Can I Use Frozen Spinach?

Yes, you can absolutely use frozen spinach to make these stuffed shells. This recipe calls for either fresh or frozen spinach, depending on what’s convenient for you.

If using frozen spinach, thaw it according to package instructions, transfer it to a clean kitchen towel, roll it up, and squeeze out its liquid. Then, add it to the skillet with sautéed garlic and red pepper flakes to warm it up and evaporate excess moisture.

Can I Freeze Stuffed Shells?

Yes! Stuffed shells freeze exceptionally well. I recommend freezing before baking, as baking the shells, freezing, then reheating can dry them out. Assemble the shells in a baking dish or aluminum pan, top with sauce and cheese, then cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and freeze for up to two months.

To bake the shells from frozen, transfer the baking dish to the refrigerator the night before you want to eat them to thaw slowly. Once thawed, bake, covered with aluminum foil, at 375°F for 20 minutes, then uncover and continue to bake the shells until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling, about 10 minutes more.

Spinach Stuffed Shells Recipe

These cheesy vegetarian stuffed shells can be made with either fresh or frozen spinach, depending on what is convenient for you.

Prep time 35 minutes

Cook time 33 minutes to 36 minutes

Makes about 20 stuffed shells

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 10 ounces

    baby spinach (about 10 cups), or 1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach

  • 3 cloves

    garlic

  • 12 ounces

    low-moisture whole-milk or part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)

  • 1 ounce

    Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 1/2 firmly packed cup grated on a Microplane or 1/3 cup store-bought)

  • 3 tablespoons

    olive oil, divided

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    red pepper flakes

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt, divided, plus more for the pasta water

  • 6 ounces

    dried jumbo pasta shells (about 20)

  • 1

    (15- to 16-ounce) container whole-milk ricotta cheese (about 2 heaping cups)

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1

    (about 24-ounce) jar marinara sauce (3 cups), divided

Instructions

  1. Arrange a rack in the top third of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F.

  2. If using frozen spinach, thaw 10 ounces according to package directions. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel, roll it up in the towel, and squeeze out all the excess moisture.

  3. Mince 3 garlic cloves. Grate 12 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese on the large holes of a box grater (about 3 cups). Finely grate 1 ounce Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 packed cup).

  4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large high-sided skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. If using fresh baby spinach, add 10 ounces a few handfuls at a time and stir until just wilted, about 5 minutes. If using frozen spinach, add to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Season with 1/4 teaspoon of the kosher salt. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly while you parboil the shells.

  5. Add 6 ounces jumbo pasta shells to the pot of boiling water and cook until barely al dente, about 9 minutes or according to package directions. Drain, drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil while still in the strainer, and toss to coat.

  6. Add 15 to 16 ounces ricotta cheese, 1 cup of the mozzarella, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper to the pan of spinach and stir to combine.

  7. Spread 1 cup of marinara sauce from a 24-ounce jar into a 9x13-inch baking dish. Stuff each shell with a generous spoonful (about a heaping tablespoon) of the ricotta mixture and place them filling-side up in the dish. Spoon the remaining 2 cups marinara sauce over the shells and sprinkle with the remaining 2 cups mozzarella and Parmesan.

  8. Bake uncovered until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before serving.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The shells can be assembled and refrigerated unbaked up to 2 days in advance, or frozen for up to 1 month. Thaw the frozen shells overnight in the refrigerator before baking. Bake, covered with aluminum foil, at 375°F for 20 minutes, then uncover and continue to bake until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling, about 10 minutes more.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

This post originally ran on Kitchn. See it there: Spinach Stuffed Shells