Cheesy Ricotta and Spinach Stuffed Shells

IMG_8971 (550x364) (2) Pasta casseroles are comforting and are perfect to serve family dinners and parties to. They do take a bit of time to assemble, but are positively worth it. Here’s a better option. Make the casserole ahead of time, store it in your freezer and on the day that you decide you want stuffed shells for dinner, all you have to do is reheat it.

I make these shells with a creamy ricotta filling with spinach, and mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Topped with a homemade tomato sauce, I also added beef to the sauce to add some protein to the dish. (My husband likes his meat.) You can use sausage instead of the beef, or even use mushrooms.

For the Tomato-Meat Sauce:

Heat about a Tablespoon of oil in a large skillet. Add the ground beef, season with salt, pepper and dry Italian herbs. I also use Montreal chicken seasoning. Cook on medium high heat until meat is no longer pink. IMG_8649 (550x367)

You can substitute the beef with whatever you like: sausage, chicken thighs, ground chicken or turkey. Instead of meat, you can use mushrooms. That would be a great vegetarian option. You can simplify the sauce even more and make a plain but equally delicious tomato sauce with onions and garlic.

Add the onion and cook for about 5-7 minutes, until the onions are tender. IMG_8650 (550x367) Pulse the tomatoes in a food processor until they are the consistency that you like.  Add the tomatoes and garlic to the skillet. IMG_8658 (550x367) Cover and cook for about 25-30 minutes. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Take the sauce off the heat. Stir in the fresh herbs. Pour in a splash of heavy cream. Stir it all together and set aside. IMG_8660 (550x367)

For the Filling:

Cook the shells according to package instructions. Set aside until it’s cool enough to handle.

While the shells are cooking, make the filling. Squeeze out all the excess liquid from the spinach. Combine the cheeses, eggs, 3 teaspoons of salt, 2 teaspoons of pepper and the spinach together. IMG_8665 (550x367) IMG_8676 (550x367)

To assemble:

Place the ricotta mixture into a large ziptop bag. Snip off the corner of the bag and pipe the filling inside the pasta shells. IMG_8685 (550x367) Spread about 1/2 a cup of tomato-meat sauce on the bottom of an 8×8 inch pan. IMG_8691 (550x367) Nestle the stuffed shells on top of the sauce and pour more sauce over the shells. IMG_8699 (550x367) IMG_8703 (550x367) Sprinkle with about 1 cup of mozzarella cheese. (Most of the time I use a mixture of half mozzarella and half Parmesan). IMG_8705 (550x366) You will have 8 (8x8inch) baking pans of stuffed shells. You can also use 13×9 inch pans, and you’ll have 4 of these bigger pans.  IMG_8756 (550x364)

To Freeze:

When the shells are at room temperature, get them ready for the freezer. Wrap each baking pan with a double layer of aluminum foil, making sure to label each pan. IMG_8793 (550x367) Seal each baking pan with plastic wrap.

To serve:

Defrost the stuffed shells. Bake in a preheat 400 degree oven, covered with a single layer of aluminum foil, for 20-30 minutes, until it’s bubbling around the edges. Uncover and broil for 3-5 minutes, until the cheese is golden and crisp. Sprinkle some fresh herbs on top of the hot shells. IMG_8968 (550x367) IMG_8971 (550x364) (2)

Cheesy Ricotta and Spinach Stuffed Shells
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Serves: 24-26
Ingredients
Tomato-Meat Sauce:
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • salt, pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Montreal chicken seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon dry Italian herbs
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 (28 oz) cans tomatoes plus one, 14.5 oz can
  • 1½ Tablespoons fresh basil and parsley, chopped
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
Shells:
  • 3 packages jumbo pasta shells
  • 3 (32 oz) containers ricotta
  • 2-3 cups mozzarella, shredded
  • ½ - ¾ cup parmesan, shredded
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  • 3 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 (10 oz) container frozen spinach
  • 6-8 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded, to sprinkle on top of the stuffed shells
  • fresh parsely, basil, minced to garnish cooked shells
Instructions
For the Tomato-Meat Sauce:
  1. Heat about a Tablespoon of oil in a large skillet. Add the ground beef, season with salt, pepper and dry Italian herbs. I also use Montreal chicken seasoning. Cook on medium high heat until meat is no longer pink.
  2. Add the onion and cook for about 5-7 minutes, until the onions are tender.
  3. Pulse the tomatoes in a food processor until they are the consistency that you like.
  4. Add the tomatoes and garlic to the skillet. Cover and cook for about 25-30 minutes. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
  5. Take the sauce off the heat. Stir in the fresh herbs. Pour in a splash of heavy cream. Stir it all together and set aside.
For the Shells:
  1. Cook the shells according to package instructions. Set aside until they are cool enough to handle.
  2. While the shells are cooking, make the filling.
  3. Squeeze out all the excess liquid from the spinach.
  4. Combine the cheeses, eggs, 3 teaspoons of salt, 2 teaspoons of pepper and the spinach together.
To assemble:
  1. Place the ricotta mixture into a large ziptop bag.
  2. Snip off the corner of the bag and pipe the filling inside the pasta shells.
  3. Spread about ½ a cup of tomato-meat sauce on the bottom of an 8x8 inch pan.
  4. Nestle the stuffed shells on top of the sauce in a single layer and pour more sauce over the shells.
  5. Sprinkle with about 1 cup of mozzarella cheese. (Most of the time I use a mixture of half mozzarella and half Parmesan).
  6. You will have 8 (8x8inch) baking pans of stuffed shells.
To Freeze:
  1. When the shells are at room temperature, get them ready for the freezer.
  2. Wrap each baking pan with a double layer of aluminum foil, making sure to label each pan. Seal each baking pan with plastic wrap.
To serve:
  1. Defrost the stuffed shells.
  2. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven, covered with a single layer of aluminum foil, for 20-30 minutes, until it's bubbling around the edges.
  3. Uncover and broil for 3-5 minutes, until the cheese is golden and crisp.
  4. Sprinkle some fresh herbs on top of the hot shells.

 
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Comments

  1. jenny says

    Could you write a the recipe for a one time meal for this dish, how much of everything would I need, for a smaller one time portion. thanks olya

  2. Nadia says

    These look so good!! My sister makes them amost the same way but instead of the tomato-meat sauce shd uses alfredo sauce.

  3. Lana says

    I didnt see anywhere if youre supposed to put the finished dish into the oven to let the top cheese melt. (im making it ready to eat not to freeze, cause you do list how to cook after they been frozen). thanx they look yummy:)

    • says

      Lana,
      You definitely need to bake the stuffed shells before baking. Whenever there is a recipe for freezing and you wish to serve the dish right away, just omit the freezer instructions and continue with the recipe, in this case, baking the shells until they are bubbly around the edges, 20-25 minutes.

  4. Masha says

    I made those tonight! Me and my husband both enjoyed it! Thank you for the great recipe and I froze some for later! And gave one batch for my in laws to enjoy.

    • says

      I’m glad you enjoyed them. It’s always nice when you can cook once and eat several times:). And especially nice when you can share!

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