These delicious Pasta Shells are stuffed with a creamy ricotta filling and topped with a classic Italian sauce. It makes the perfect family or special occasion dinner idea. Stuffed Pasta never tasted so good!
Whenever I am looking for a comfort pasta food these stuffed shells are always one of the first that come to mind. I love them with the sauce I include in the recipe or even a simple tomato sauce (also known as a Marinara Sauce) or a Tomato Cream Sauce. All are perfectly delicious.
The Ingredients you will need to make this recipe
For the Sauce
- Olive oil
- Garlic – 1-2 cloves minced
- Carrot – chopped
- Celery – chopped
- Tomato puree – also known as tomato passata or conserva
- Basil – you can use ground or fresh basil
- Oregano – ground
For the Pasta
- Ricotta cheese – I like to use dairy rather than goat ricotta
- Spinach – fresh or frozen
- Parmesan cheese – freshly grated
- Egg – large
- Nutmeg – just a pinch if you want
- Pasta Shells – jumbo pasta shells good quality pasta
What is ricotta cheese?
Ricotta cheese is made from leftover whey from other cheeses, it can be from cow, goat, sheep or Italian Buffalo. Sometimes an acidifier is added. Ricotta meaning recooked is just that, the recooking of the whey. Since it is not produced from curd, but from whey, ricotta cannot be considered a real cheese. The term ricotta can also mean the fresh one.
Most if not all the regions of Italy make their own ricotta but the most popular comes from Lazio, Abruzzo, Basilicata, Sicilia, Sardegna, Campania, Puglia, Calabria, Toscana, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Lombardia e Piemonte. And Baked Ricotta is originally from the Region of Sardegna.
How to make Stuffed Pasta Shells
Start by making the sauce, in a large skillet add the olive oil, garlic, onion, carrot and celery, cook on medium heat for a couple of minutes, then add the tomato puree, water, salt, basil and oregano stir to combine, continue to cook, half covered until thickened.
Cook the pasta shells in a large pot of salted water until very al dente. Check the box and boil 2 minutes less then the recommended cooking time. Drain well and set aside.
While the sauce is cooking, in one inch of lightly salted water, cook the spinach until very tender, then drain. Let it cool, once it has cooled, squeeze out as much excess moisture as possible.
Finely chop the spinach. Place it in a medium bowl, add the ricotta, egg, pinch of salt, nutmeg and the parmesan cheese, gently mix together.
In a medium size baking dish or large casserole dish spread a little sauce on the bottom, fill the shells with the ricotta mixture and place in the pan.
Spoon the remaining sauce over the shells, but don’t cover completely, sprinkle with the 2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese or even some grated mozzarella cheese if you wish, bake in the pre-heated oven. Top with more freshly grated parmesan cheese if desired before serving.
Tips for making the best Stuffed Pasta Shells
Don’t overcook the pasta. The shells need to be cooked just to al dente so that they remain sturdy and ready for filling. If they are overcooked, they can tear as you begin to open them for filling. Be sure to drain well before filling.
The mixture fills 24 shells and they fit perfectly a pan measuring 11×7 inches (28×18 cm).
The pasta shells needed for this recipe are usually labeled as “jumbo shells” or, more rarely labeled as “conchiglioni”. They are typically filled with a ricotta mixture and topped with a tomato sauce and melted cheese.
If you have drained your pasta, you can add a little bit of classic olive oil to the pasta to keep them from drying out and/or sticking together.
If you can’t find jumbo pasta shells then you can substitute with cannelloni shells, prepare the same way.
If you want you can add some ground turkey, chopped Italian sausage or even ground beef to the sauce, I would advise adding it after cooking the carrots and celery.
How to store the Stuffed Pasta Shells
Any leftovers should be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated. They last about 3-5 days in the fridge.
How to freeze them
Stuffed shells can be frozen. After stuffing the pasta shells, place on a baking sheet and place in the freezer until they begin to harden.
Then, remove from the baking sheet and place in either a freezer bag or an airtight container. When ready to serve, thaw the shells, and continue with the recipe. They will last for up to three months in the freezer.
So whenever you are looking for the perfect Pasta comfort food, I hope you give these Stuffed Pasta Shells a try and let me know what you think. Buon Appetito!
Stuffed pasta shells
FOR THE SAUCE
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1-2 cloves garlic minced
- ½ medium onion finely chopped (optional)
- ½ medium carrot chopped small
- ½ medium celery stalk chopped small
- 2½ cups tomato puree (passata)
- 1-1½ cups water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½-1 teaspoon basil ground or 4-5 fresh basil leaves chopped
- ½-1 teaspoon oregano ground
FOR THE FILLING
- 24 large pasta shells
- 1 cup ricotta (if ricotta is watery drain in a sieve for about 30-60 minutes)
- 4½-5 cups fresh spinach (½ cup cooked)
- ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese (40 grams total)
- 1 large egg
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch nutmeg (optional)
- 2-3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese or mozzarella if preferred
- Pre-heat oven to 350F (180C).
FOR THE SAUCE
- Start by making the sauce, in a large skillet add the olive oil, garlic, onion, carrot and celery, cook on medium heat for 2-3 minutes, then add the tomato puree, water, salt, basil and oregano stir to combine, continue to cook on medium heat, half covered until thickened, approximately 20-25 minutes.
- Cook the pasta shells in a large pot of salted water until very al dente. Check the box and boil 2 minutes less then the recommended cooking time. Drain well and set aside, so they don't stick together, toss with a teaspoon or 2 of olive oil.
- While the sauce is cooking, in one inch of lightly salted water, cook the spinach until very tender, then drain. Let it cool, once it has cooled, squeeze out as much excess moisture as possible.
- Finely chop the spinach. Place it in a medium bowl, add the ricotta, egg, pinch of salt, nutmeg and the parmesan cheese, gently mix together.
- In a medium size baking pan spread approximately ¼-½ cup of sauce on the bottom, fill the shells with the ricotta mixture (I used about a heaping teaspoon and a bit per shell). Place the shells in the pan,( the mixture fills 24 shells and they fit perfectly in the pan, I used a an 11×7 inch (28×18 cm)baking dish).
- Spoon the remaining sauce over the shells, but don’t cover completely, sprinkle with the 2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese or even some grated mozzarella cheese if you wish, bake in the pre-heated oven for approximately 20-25 minutes. Before serving top with more freshly grated parmesan cheese if desired, serve immediately. Enjoy!
Updated from May 12, 2014.