Stuffed shells are one of the greatest comfort foods around. Easy to prepare especially when you already have some spinach and ricotta filling sitting in the refrigerator just waiting to get packed into some pasta shells.
My wife and I prepared some eggplant rollanti stuffed with a spinach and ricotta filling last week and there was extra filling waiting to be used in the refrigerator. My wife suggested stuffed shells so I’m off to the market.
Shell Sizes (Conchiglie)
Stuffed shells come in several sizes including a very small version used in soups called “conchigliette” and a jumbo sized “conchiglioni” with other sizes in between. The shells I used were 2 ½ inches in length and there were 40 in a 12 ounce box.
I think I’ve seen them much bigger but I can’t find any examples online. I'm going to keep looking online and in the markets and will post the resource when I find them.
There’s nothing like a good homemade tomato sauce and I highly recommend you make up a big batch and freeze whatever you don’t use so when you need a little sauce for a quick pasta dinner, you have some on hand. If you don’t have any “gravy” for this recipe, using a favorite commercial brand is a good alternative.
Here’s another version of a simple tomato sauce you may want to try.
This is a very basic recipe for stuffed shells but think of all the possibilities. You can create hundreds of different fillings with different herbs and spices, adding poultry, seafood, meats or vegetables to it.
Then you can make dozen’s of different types of sauces to serve with the shells. I’m thinking shells stuffed with a sausage ricotta combination and served with a meat sauce. Or how about a seafood filling served with a lobster-based white sauce. Vegetarian, spicy, I’ve even seen prosciutto wrapped stuffed shells that I can’t wait to try.
Use this basic stuffed shells recipe as a start. Make it as described or play around with it and make it something special for your own tastes or those of your family.
Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells Recipe
- 1 12 oz box jumbo pasta shells 40 – 2.5 inch shells
- salt & pepper to taste
- 2 eggs
- 4 cups ricotta cheese
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese shredded
- ¾ cup Pecorino Romano cheese grated, Parmesan cheese works too
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley finely chopped
- 2 10 oz packages frozen chopped spinach thawed and squeezed dry
- pinch ground nutmeg
- 3 cups tomato sauce freshly prepared although your favorite commercial brands works well too
- Start by bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil and cooking the pasta according to the package directions. For a 12-ounce box of shells, this means add the shells, give them a good stir and cook until just tender.
- You don’t want to overcook the shells because they are going to be cooked again after you add the filling and are baked in the oven. Stir the shells occasionally and when done, drain and separate the shells on a cookie sheet so they don’t stick.
- The shells are going to be hot after you drain them and will stick together if you wait for them to cool off so I use the spray nozzle to cool them off quickly with cold water.
- As soon as the shells are drained and separated, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Prepare the Filling
- While you are bringing the water to a boil, prepare the filling.
- Beat the eggs in a bowl, and then add the ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, ½ cup Pecorino cheese, parsley, chopped spinach and the pinch of nutmeg.
- Season with a little salt and pepper and combine all these ingredients with a large spoon.
- When the pasta is ready, fill each shell with a large spoonful of the filling. You don’t want to over-stuff them but don’t be skimpy either.
- In a baking dish big enough to hold all the shells, pour in some of the tomato sauce to coat the bottom of the dish. Add a layer of shells, then some more sauce and then another layer of shells. Top with a little more sauce.
- Depending on the size of your baking dish, you’ll end up with two layers.
- Top the shells with the remaining ¼ cup of Pecorino cheese and cover. If the baking dish doesn’t have a cover, use some aluminum foil.
- Bake for about 35 minutes. When done, the pan will be hot and bubbly.
- Remove the pan from the oven, remove the cover and let it sit for a couple of minutes to cool down a bit.
- Using a large serving spoon, carefully serve the shells and serve with some fresh Italian bread.