Cheesy Spinach Stuffed Shells

You really can’t go too long in life without examining whether or not you have a tried-and-true recipe for stuffed pasta shells.

It’s the ultimate in comfort food – jumbo pasta shells stuffed with a creamy, cheesy filling baked up all saucy and delicious – and it’s just one of those recipes you need to be able to pull out of your rock star hat and whip up when dinner is awaiting. The beauty of this recipe is that it can very easily be made up to a day in advance and refrigerated until baking time (love that) and it freezes beautifully, too. Who doesn’t need a good, save-your-busy-bacon freezer meal now and then? I know you know what I know I’m talking about.

I like to throw spinach into the filling to add a pop of color and also a little extra nutrition. My kids are so eager to devour sauce and cheese and pasta that the spinach is a total afterthought for them which is awesome for me.

Cheesy Spinach Stuffed Shells

Not only is this meal high on the family-pleasing spectrum, it also freezes magnificently and makes a really great take-in meal to your friend that just had a baby or the new neighbor moving in or the coworker who just had surgery or even the family you know who just got a new puppy and whose mom feels like she’ll never have time to make dinner again (ok, that one was thrown in just for my benefit because I’m still having a pity party over how much work a puppy is – how come no one warned me?).

However or to whomever you choose to serve it, these cheesy spinach stuffed pasta shells are a total winner winner pasta dinner.

Cheesy Spinach Stuffed Shells

What To ServeCheesy Garlic Bread
Skillet Squash Medley or other steamed vegetable
Green salad (thrown together with fresh ingredients on hand or this lovely version)

One Year Ago: Chipotle Chicken Skewers with Creamy Dipping Sauce
Two Years Ago: Old-Fashioned Banana Cream Pie
Three Years Ago: Marinated Caprese Salad

Cheesy Spinach Stuffed Shells

Yield: Serves 6

Cheesy Spinach Stuffed Shells

If you want to use the entire box of shells (there are usually about 32 shells total in a 12 ounce box), prepare an 8X8-inch pan in addition to the 9X13-inch pan and consider increasing the filling and sauce by half. Also, make sure to squeeze as much liquid out of that spinach as possible so the shells don't have excess liquid (letting the sit for a few minutes after baking will help that, too). If you'd like to reserve some of the cheese (or shred extra) for sprinkling on top of the shells and sauce before baking, feel free!

Finally, this makes a great freezer meal. Before baking the shells, after they have been fully assembled and covered in sauce, cover the dish with a double layer of aluminum foil and freeze. I usually bake from frozen, adding an hour onto the baking time and uncovering for 15-30 minutes instead of just a couple of minutes (so it would be about an hour and a half covered and then 15-30 minutes uncovered).


  • 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Pasta Shells:
  • 24 large pasta shells (about 3/4 of a 12 ounce box)
  • Filling:
  • 16 ounces (2 cups) cottage cheese
  • 15 ounces (about 2 cups) part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 10 ounces frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry of excess liquid
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 6 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)


  1. For the sauce, combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Continue simmering for 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  2. While the sauce simmers, in a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta shells al dente according to package directions. Drain and immediately place them in an even layer on paper towels or parchment.
  3. For the filling, in a medium bowl, stir together the cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, salt, pepper, parsley, oregano and basil. Add the spinach and mix until combined. Stir in the cheeses.
  4. Lightly grease a 9X13-inch pan with cooking spray and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  5. Spoon about half of the sauce on the bottom of the prepared pan and spread evenly. Fill each pasta shell with an even amount of the filling (about 1/4 cup per shell, more or less) and place the shells on top of the sauce in the pan - making three rows of eight shells.
  6. Pour the remaining sauce evenly over the top of the shells. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 35-40 minutes. Uncover and bake five or so more minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let the shells sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Recipe Source: from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

32 Responses to Cheesy Spinach Stuffed Pasta Shells

  1. Jessica says:

    I know this comment is like 2.5 years late (haha) and I’ve actually made these before and loved them! Now I’m pregnant though and noticed I can freeze them, but I’m never sure just how long they can stay in the freezer. I’m not due until January 18th. Should I hold off a few more weeks before making this and freezing it?? Thank you!!

    • Mel says:

      Hey Jessica – congrats on your upcoming new baby! I think you are fine to make and freeze now. I usually consider two months a safe bet for freezing casseroles – it will hold better if it’s cooled all the way before freezing so it doesn’t get a lot of unnecessary ice crystals.

  2. Adriana says:

    We absolutely loved these! My husband is not an Italian/pasta guy at all, and he was over the moon for these!! Even my two year old ate some. I added1/2 lb of ground beef to the sauce, just to entice my husband a little more, and it worked like a charm. Thanks Mel!!

  3. Melanie says:

    I made 4 pans of these tonight (3 for freezer meal gifts). I added 1/2 lb of italian sausage to sauce also. My grocery store only had 2 packages of spinach left, so between 4 pans, that was only 1/2 package each. That actually turned out to be plenty for our tastes. I always squeeze my spinach out in a potato ricer, and that works perfect. You can squeeze out every last drop of water with that baby. Anyways, the dish turned out delish. I loved that the sauce was not just a jar of Ragu or something like most other recipes; it tasted more fresh and real. And holy moly there was a lot of cheese in those shells!! I’m all about bringing new mamas food instead of a baby gift, and I’ll be excited to drop these off this month. Thanks Mel!

  4. Andrea says:

    I know this is a late comment, but I just made this last night and it was fab. Wanted you to know that because my store was out of jumbo shells, I used oven-ready cannelloni; stuffed them with the cheese without cooking them first, and baked as directed. Perfect and super easy. Thanks!

  5. Ellen says:

    What’s the easiest/best way to thaw the frozen spinach?

    • Mel says:

      Hi Ellen, I usually try to pop it in the fridge the night before but if I forget, I usually take it out of the box and microwave it on low power for a few minutes.

  6. Portia says:

    can Italian seasoning be substituted for the basil and oregano?

  7. Lynda M. says:

    I made these amazing cheesy spinach stuffed pasta goodness for dinner last night. Fantastic. My son loved it so much he had it for breakfast this morning. I did make a minor change with the addition of Italian sausage in both the filling and the sauce because my son was appalled there was no meat. I cooked the whole box of pasta so made both a 8 X 8 and a 9 X 13. I froze the large pan and am taking it to my in-laws for dinner on Sat. It is going to be a huge hit! Thank you for another great recipe.

  8. Natalie says:

    Just made this for dinner. Amazing!

  9. Amber D says:

    Making this tonight! My husband HAS to have meat 😉 so I’m adding some Italian sausage to the sauce. Can’t wait to devour it.

  10. Jolie says:

    Made it tonight and loved it! Will definitely make again.

  11. Janelle says:

    Made this tonight and it was a huge hit! Thanks so much for another great recipe! We especially loved the sauce.

    Had to laugh about your puppy comment. When we first got ours, my grandma told me that she’d rather have a new baby than a puppy. I do think she had a point 🙂

  12. McKenzie Schellenberg says:

    Holy delicious!!! This is killing me, I am six months pregnancy and cheese and certain spices, like basil, make me really sick for some reason, but I am going to come back to this recipe in three months after my baby is born and eat it up!!

  13. Kathy says:

    I love freezer meals, too! Do you boil the shells before assembly and freezing, or not?

  14. tahnycooks says:

    Stocking the freezer with this fantastic meal! Winner!

  15. Jen T says:

    I was thinking just the other day I didn’t have a good recipe for this. You read my mind Mel! Thanks!!!

  16. Jessica says:

    Oooh this looks fabulous Mel! I often order stuffed shells when I go to an Italian restaurant so would love to try my hand at these at home.

  17. Yay for freezer meals!! Totally trying these 🙂

  18. Nicole says:

    Oh my goodness, this looks delicious! Now I’m craving some carbs … cheesy carbs!

  19. Shelly says:

    Thank you for another freezer meal! I love freezer meals that go straight from the freezer to the oven so I can use them on those days that my world goes into unexpected and complete chaos.

  20. norniea says:

    Would using fresh spinach, chopped fine work as well? I don’t have frozen, but I have fresh! Thanks!

    • Mel says:

      norniea – you could definitely use fresh spinach but I’d steam it or cook it down first and then drain off the liquid so that the pasta shells don’t get too liquidy/watery.

  21. Stuffed shells are so dang tasty. Love this!

  22. One of my favorite meals! Thanks for instructions on how to bake from frozen (I need to make some of these ahead of time but wasn’t sure how much longer to bake them for).

  23. Jenn A says:

    This looks great! Definitely saving this recipe.
    And puppies….kind of like having a newborn.

  24. Sheila says:

    Yeah, a Mel original! Again, photography is so good drawing me into wanting to make this now for breakfast! Love freezer meals!

  25. Kim in MD says:

    Puppies are SO much work, but the love and joy she will bring to your family will make it all worth it! I love stuffed shells. Your recipe looks especially delicious with the addition of the spinach!

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