Al dente pasta shells are stuffed with a cheesy ricotta, spinach and garlic filling, then smothered in a hearty meat sauce and mozzarella cheese, then baked until bubbly and golden brown! Perfect for a big family dinner and as a freezer-meal!
This is one of my Pasta recipes I know you’ll want to keep on hand!
Italian-style or Italian-American food is one of my favorite types of cuisine, and thankfully, my family agrees.
There’s something very comforting about pasta, and these lasagna stuffed shells are no exception!
I love the deep savory flavors, and how each shell perfectly envelopes the garlicky ricotta filling.
Plus they can be made ahead in multiple ways and even frozen, which makes this meal perfect for just about every night of the week!
How to make lasagna stuffed shells?
This is just an overview; the full ingredients and directions are in the recipe card toward the bottom of this post.
- Make meat sauce. I like to do this the day before, so it cuts down on the time needed to make this recipe.
- Cook spinach and garlic. It will look like a ton of spinach, but it’ll cook down.
- Combine filling and spinach. I just use a wooden spoon for this.
- Bottom layer of sauce. Use about half the sauce.
- Fill shells. You can use a spoon or add the filling to a piping bag to fill them.
- Add shells to baking dish.
- Add top layer of sauce. Spoon it down the center of each row of shells.
- Top with cheese.
I developed this recipe to be used with my bolognese-style sauce (which includes instant pot, slow cooker, and stovetop directions), but please feel free to use whichever meaty spaghetti sauce you prefer; if you’d use it for lasagna, it’ll work here!
Variations of this recipe
- Sauce – I like to use my bolognese sauce recipe for this, but there are some other great store-bought options out there (Mid’s and Rao’s are good ones).
- Filling – if you’d like to really bump up the layered lasagna flavor and look, add some ricotta filling to the shells, then add some of the meat sauce inside the shells on top of the ricotta filling. Then continue with the recipe!
- No spinach – we love the added nutrition and flavor of the garlic spinach, but if you’re not a fan, you can omit the spinach completely.
- Cheeses – feel free to add in some Romano or Asiago cheese, or any cheese you like.
- Herbs – you can increase or decrease the amount of herbs to your tastes.
- No meat – if you’d like a vegetarian version, check out my Classic Stuffed Shells recipe.
There are multiple ways to fill pasta shells, but my favorite two are to use a spoon, or add the filling to a piping bag (or ziploc bag with the end snipped off) and pipe the filling into the shells.
The filling is usually the same, or similar, but the pasta the filling is put into is where the difference is. Manicotti is made with ridged tubular pasta, vs the large shell-shaped pasta the stuffed shells use.
Making stuffed shells ahead of time
This recipe is super easy to make entirely ahead of time.
Just assemble the stuffed shells in the baking dish, cover tightly and refrigerate for 1-2 days. Let sit on the counter while the oven preheats, then bake as directed.
You can also make this ahead in other ways:
- Prep ahead – the filling can be made ahead and refrigerated, shells can be boiled and refrigerated, and cheese can be shredded and refrigerated.
- Partially make ahead – fill the shells with the filling, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. When ready to bake, add pre-made shells to the baking dish and proceed with recipe.
I love making a double batch of these stuffed shells, and freezing one of the batches.
Just assemble as directed, then cover tightly with a double layer of aluminum foil (or whatever you normally use to cover your freezer dishes), and freeze for up to 3 months.
Thaw in the refrigerator, then bake as directed.
You can also bake from frozen, at 350°F for 50 minutes covered, then uncover and bake another 15 minutes or until hot and bubbly throughout.
Leftover stuffed shells should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and enjoyed within 4-5 days.
You can use any 9×13″ pan, but if you’re in the market for a great set of white baking dishes, this 3 pack is a great deal! The largest size is perfect for this recipe.
Did you make this? Be sure to leave a review below and tag me @the_chunky_chef on Facebook and Instagram!
- Bolognese sauce recipe (click the ingredient for a direct link to that recipe)
- 12 oz box dried jumbo pasta shells
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic minced
- 5 cups fresh baby spinach leaves roughly chopped
- 30 oz whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1 Tbsp dried Italian seasoning
- 1 Tbsp minced fresh basil
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 4 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese divided
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese fresh is best
- minced fresh parsley for garnish (optional)
- Spray a 9×13” baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
Make the bolognese sauce
- If making homemade bolognese sauce (clickable link to the recipe), prepare that and set aside. If using a store bought sauce, disregard this section.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then boil jumbo shells several minutes less than the package directions state (I boil mine for 8 minutes). Drain.
- While pasta is cooking, add olive oil to a large skillet and heat over MED HIGH heat. Once oil is hot, add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for about a minute or so, until it just begins to turn golden brown.
- Add spinach and cook for about 4 minutes, or until spinach is wilted and reduced by about half, but the leaves are still green. Remove from heat and let cool.
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- In a mixing bowl, add ricotta cheese, Italian seasoning, minced basil, salt, pepper, 3 cups mozzarella cheese, eggs, and Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine.
- Stir in cooked spinach and garlic mixture.
- Spread about 1.5 – 2 cups of the bolognese sauce in the bottom of the prepared baking dish.
- Fill each shell with a generous amount of the ricotta filling, then add to the baking dish (they should fit 6 across and 4 down for a total of 24).
- Spoon another 1.5 – 2 cups of bolognese sauce over the centers of the tops of the shells, then sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese.
- Cover dish loosely with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake another 10 minutes, until sauce is hot and bubbly and cheese is melted and starting to brown.
- Sprinkle with minced parsley and serve hot.
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- Prep and cook time does not include the bolognese sauce, since that has several cooking methods (all with different times), and can be prepared ahead or frozen.
- Even though you’ll only be using approximately 24 shells, I do recommend cooking the whole box. Some will inevitably break during the boiling/draining/filling process.
- Calorie information also does not include the bolognese sauce, as different brands of sauce (for store bought), and ingredient brands (to make the sauce) will alter the calorie content.
The Chunky Chef is not a dietician or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is an estimate. If calorie count and other nutritional values are important to you, we recommend running the ingredients through whichever online nutritional calculator you prefer. Calories can vary quite a bit depending on which brands were used.