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This stuffed shells recipe is easy and a crowd pleaser! The ricotta stuffed pasta shells swimming in tomato sauce are a hit every time.

Stuffed Shells
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Here’s a recipe that’s simple, hearty and pleases a crowd: this easy Stuffed Shells recipe! Stuff pasta shells with ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan and spinach, then bake them up in a bath of garlicky tomato sauce. It makes your kitchen smell heavenly, and the first bite into one of those jumbo shells confirms it’s just as tasty as the smell. This Italian classic recipe is a favorite of ours: here’s how to bake up this easy dinner idea. (Even our spinach-averse kiddo was a fan!)

Ingredients in this stuffed shells recipe

You can make stuffed pasta shells with just about any type of filling. Here we’ve opted for a spinach ricotta stuffing, which is both classic and vegetarian. But don’t worry: meat lovers won’t miss the meat at all! Our friends and family can attest that this one is a winner. Here’s what you’ll need for this stuffed shells recipe:

  • Jumbo pasta shells
  • Fire roasted crushed tomatoes (or substitute purchased marinara sauce)
  • Garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Dried oregano and salt
  • Frozen spinach
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Whole milk mozzarella cheese
  • Lemon zest
  • Egg
  • Parsley, for garnish
Stuffed Shells

Ingredient notes for stuffed shells

As with any Italian dish, this stuffed shells recipe depends on the quality of ingredients for a great result. Above all, we suggest making your own tomato sauce with fire roasted tomatoes. While you can use purchased marinara, a homemade tomato sauce heightens the flavors! Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Use fire roasted tomatoes in the tomato sauce. Fire roasted tomatoes make the best flavor: they taste sweet and smoky right out of the can. If you can’t find them, substitute best quality tomatoes and add 1 teaspoon sugar and ½ teaspoon smoked paprika.
  • If you choose to use purchased marinara, add the garlic and oregano in the recipe. This helps to infuse homemade flavor into the purchased sauce.
  • Whole milk mozzarella cheese makes a difference. This type of cheese melts much better than part skim and has a richer flavor (try it: you’ll notice a difference!). It also melts better when reheating.
Stuffed shells

Working with frozen spinach

Frozen spinach is the best ingredient to use in these stuffed shells: not fresh spinach! Of course if you like, you can cook down 10 ounces of fresh spinach until it is wilted very small. But frozen spinach really does have an advantage: it has just the right texture for using in filled pastas once it’s defrosted. Here are a few tips on using frozen spinach:

  • Defrost under warm running water or in the microwave. If you’re using warm water, each brand of spinach takes a different amount of time to thaw. Some brands thaw in a few minutes, others take a while of breaking apart the frozen chunks. The microwave can be quicker and easier.
  • Important: squeeze out all extra moisture with your fingers. If you’d like, you can place the spinach in a paper towel to do this. Or, just squeeze out the moisture over the sink before using it. It should feel very dry and crumbly before using it.

Leftover storage and make ahead tips

This stuffed shells recipe takes about 1 hour to make, which doesn’t always work for weeknights. We like to make this one for dinner parties or on weekends, but you can also meal prep some of the components. This recipe also freezes well, which makes it great for a quick leftover dinner. Here are a few ideas for make ahead and storage:

  • Cook the pasta shells and make the tomato sauce in advance. This saves about 20 minutes off the timing of the recipe. Refrigerate both until ready to fill.
  • Leftovers store refrigerated for up to 3 days. You can make the entire dish in advance and refrigerate if you like. Leftovers tastes great after re-warming in a 375 degree oven. Using whole milk mozzarella cheese is nice because it re-melts nicely when left over.
  • Freeze leftovers in a sealed container for up to 3 months. Place on the counter or in the refrigerator to thaw, or you can place it right into a 375 degree oven and reheat until warmed through and the cheese is melted.
Stuffed shells recipe

What to serve with stuffed shells

How to make these stuffed shells into a meal? Use the 30 minute bake time to prepare some simple side dishes. We love it with a crunchy salad or quick sauteed vegetables. Here are a few ideas:

More Italian pasta recipes

Love pasta dishes? Here are a few more classic Italian pasta recipes you’ll love:

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Stuffed shells

Easy Stuffed Shells

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5 from 1 review

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 6 1x
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This stuffed shells recipe is easy and a crowd pleaser! The ricotta stuffed pasta shells swimming in tomato sauce are a hit every time.


  • 24 jumbo pasta shells (6.5 ounces)
  • 28 ounces fire roasted crushed tomatoes*
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano, divided
  • 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 10 ounces frozen spinach
  • 15 ounces ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups whole milk mozzarella cheese, divided
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 egg
  • Chopped parsley or basil, for garnish


  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Boil the shells until al dente, according to the package instructions. Drain them and return them to the pot. Stir in a drizzle of olive oil to prevent sticking.
  3. Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce: In a medium bowl, mix the fire roasted tomatoes, grated garlic, olive oil, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, and ¾ teaspoon kosher salt. Mix well until all the olive oil is incorporated.
  4. Make the filling: Thaw the spinach following the package instructions, then squeeze out as much water as possible with your hands (it should feel dry and crumbly before using it). Mix it with the other filling ingredients: the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, lemon zest, egg, 1 teaspoon oregano and ¾ teaspoon kosher salt.
  5. Spread half the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch pan. Take the shells one at a time and stuff them with the cheese mixture. Top with more tomato sauce and then mozzarella cheese (we spread them in lines over the top of each row of shells, so you can still see the shell shapes).
  6. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Then uncover and bake for 5 to 10 minutes more until the cheese is melted. Garnish with chopped parsley or basil and serve. Leftovers last refrigerated for 4 days; reheat in a 375°F oven until warmed through. You can also freeze leftovers for up to 3 months.


*If desired, you can use purchased marinara sauce instead of making your own. If so, still add the 1 clove grated garlic and 1 teaspoon dried oregano to enhance the flavor.

  • Category: Main dish
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Diet: Vegetarian

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes and the joy of cooking! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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  1. CherylLMcKee says:

    We ❤️ this recipe. My husband thinks I’m a master chef. I’ve made it a few times and it gets easier and easier each time.
    I think giving an estimate on how much filling to use for each shell would make it easier for first time preparers. I always start filling them too full and end up moving a little around to fill all 24 as evenly as possible.
    I also appreciate the storage and reheat instructions you share. They are great!

  2. Emma says:

    Looks yummy. I assume you can also use fresh spinach?

    1. Alex Overhiser says:

      Yes, just cook it down first.