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These cheesy stuffed pasta shells are filled with three types of cheese, spinach, basil, and delicious aromatics! This stuffed shells recipe is perfect for serving a large family or taking to a potluck.
What are stuffed shells?
Stuffed shells is a delicious dinner idea. Jumbo pasta shells are stuffed with a mixture of different fresh cheese and herbs. Then, they are baked in an aromatic marinara sauce. You will never forget this incredible recipe!
Why this recipe works
These cheesy stuffed pasta shells are an easy and flavorful dinner to feed the family or bring to a potluck.
Cook jumbo pasta shells until al dente, stuff with a three-cheese spinach filling, and then bake in the oven till the cheese is melted and bubbling.
For less mess and ease, utilize a piping bag to stuff the shells.
Best type of pasta shells for stuffed shells
For this recipe, I use jumbo shells, but you can also use manicotti with the same recipe.
Ensure the pasta shells are cooked to al dente. If the pasta shells are overcooked, they will be hard to stuff and break apart.
Once the shells are done, strain and run some cold water over them to stop the cooking!
The filling of the stuffed shells will consist of:
Remember to use the freshest ingredients that you can find. Fresh ingredients always have more flavor!
Best cheese for baked stuffed shells
I like to freshly grate the parmesan and mozzarella cheese for this recipe. Most pre-shredded cheeses have anti-caking agents in them, and they don’t melt as well.
Mozzarella can be difficult to grate since it is so soft.
For the remaining piece that you can’t grate, you can use a knife to chop it up.
Cooking stuffed pasta shells
- Roughly chop the spinach leaves. This makes it easier when stuffing the shells, so you don’t have long strings of it.
- In a skillet, sauté the roughly chopped fresh spinach and minced garlic. I would advise against using frozen spinach because it will make the filling watery.
Making the filling
- In a mixing bowl, add the sautéd spinach and garlic.
- Then add the shredded mozzarella, shredded parmesan, ricotta, chopped basil, one egg, red pepper flakes, kosher salt, and pepper.
- Stir until all the ingredients are combined.
The cheese is salty, so be mindful not to add extra salt to the mixture.
How-to stuff the shells
It wasn’t until maybe the 10th time that I made this stuffed pasta shells recipe that I found a better way to stuff the shells. I’ve always used a spoon but ended up having more on me than in the actual shells [facepalm].
Putting the filling in a bag and then piping it into the shells was easier and less messy!
You can use a rectangular baking dish or a circular one like a dutch oven. Spread arrabbiata sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. I like using arrabbiata because it gives the dish a nice kick.
If you don’t like spicy flavors, you can substitute it with your favorite red sauce.
If you have any leftover filling but no more room to add shells, you can add some more filling to the ones you may have skimped on. Then top the shells with some parmesan cheese, cover with foil, and into the oven they go.
Baking the stuffed shells
The stuffed shells bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the foil at the end of the cooking time and broil to get the cheese brown and bubbly.
Keep a close eye on them when broiling, so you do not burn the cheese.
Once done cooking, top with freshly chopped basil and additional red pepper flakes (optional), and serve!
What to serve with stuffed shells
I love serving these stuffed shells with some homemade roasted garlic bread. Or, make some cast iron garlic dinner rolls on the side. Either choice is perfect!
How-to make low-carb stuffed shells
Love this stuffed shells recipe, but looking for a low-carb option? Try my stuffed zucchini rolls, which have the same stuffing with hot Italian sausage inside!
Here are some questions people often ask about making stuffed shells. If you don’t see your question in this list, please leave it in the comments.
Should I grate the cheese at home?
Use fresh mozzarella and fresh parmesan and grate them yourself. Most shredded cheese has anti-caking agents that don’t allow them to melt as well.
How long should I pre-cook the shells for?
Cook the pasta shells al dente so they do not fall apart when stuffing and baking.
What is the easiest way to stuff the shells?
You can use a spoon to stuff shells. For ease and less mess, use a ziplock bag to pipe the filling into the shells.
How do you make this recipe less spicy?
I use the arrabbiata sauce to surround the stuffed pasta shells. If you do not like spicy flavors, you can substitute your favorite red sauce.
Can you freeze stuffed shells?
If you want to prepare in advance and freeze: Follow steps 1-5 in the recipe card. Once you have stuffed the pasta shells, place them in a freezer-friendly bag.
When ready to bake, proceed with the red sauce, and add 5-10 minutes to bake time.
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Stuffed Pasta Shells
- 12 ounces Barilla jumbo shells
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cloves fresh garlic (minced)
- 10 ounces fresh spinach leaves (roughly-chopped)
- 12 ounces skim-milk ricotta cheese
- 1 cup skim-milk mozzarella cheese (shredded)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (plus more for serving)
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup fresh basil (chopped & more for garnish)
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt (divided)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (divided)
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 24 ounces arrabbiata sauce or any red sauce
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- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- In a large pot, cook jumbo shells according to package instruction to al dente (don’t over cook or they will break when filling). Drain and rise with cold water to stop the cooking. You can drizzle a little olive oil so they don’t stick together.
- In a high walled skillet over medium high heat, add olive oil. Add garlic and cook till fragrant about a minute. Add in chopped spinach, 1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper, 1/4 tsp kosher salt, and sauté till spinach begins to wilt. About 2-3 min.
- In a large bowl add sautéd spinach mixture, mozzarella, parmesan, ricotta, egg, basil, red pepper flakes, 1/4 tsp salt and pepper, and mix together.
- In a rectangular or circular baking dish, spread all the red sauce on the bottom in an even layer. Then stuff the shells. You can use a spoon to stuff the shells or make a piping bag for an easier less messy stuffing. Pour the filling into a gallon ziplock bag, push it all to one of the bottom corners and seal the bag. Cut the corner of the bag and squeeze to fill each shell with filling.
- Cover with foil and bake the stuffed shells for 20 minutes. Remove foil and broil until cheese begins to bubble and brown. Keep a close eye so the cheese does not burn.
- Carefully remove from oven and garnish with fresh basil, additional red pepper flakes (optional) and serve.
- Use fresh mozzarella and fresh parmesan and grate them yourself. Most shredded cheese has anti-caking agents that don’t allow them to melt as good.
- Cook the pasta shells al dente, so they do not fall apart when stuffing and cooking.
- You can use a spoon to stuff shells. For ease and less mess, use a ziplock bag to pipe the filling into the shells
- I use arrabbiata sauce to surround the shells, if you do not like spicy sub your favorite red sauce
- If you want to prepare in advance and freeze: Follow steps 1-5 in the recipe card. Once you have stuffed the pasta shells, place them in a freezer friendly bag. When ready to bake, proceed with the red sauce, and add 10 minutes to bake time (to total 30 minutes or until warmed through)