Any day is a good day for pasta, but when your standard spaghetti is starting to feel stale, you may want to try your hand at making stuffed pasta shells. This recipe for baked stuffed shells straddles the line between lasagna and a simple spaghetti — it’s a recipe full of flavor and texture, but without the time and hassle of making layers of ingredients, a la lasagna. And in this case, the shells’ stuffing hits all the bases for a perfect, filling dinner. "The combination of ricotta, sausage meat, and spinach is what makes this recipe unique and delicious," says recipe developer Susan Olayinka of The Flexible Fridge. "The ricotta and sausage mix together perfectly and create a delicious filling for the shells, while the spinach provides a nice contrast in flavor and texture."
And it’s this hearty filling that Olayinka loves so much: "It’s so flavorful and hearty. It is perfect for a winter night when you want something warm and comforting, but don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen. It is also a pretty easy dish to make, which is another bonus."
Gather the ingredients for baked stuffed shells
The ingredient list for this baked stuffed shells recipe is really very short. All you’ll need are jumbo pasta shells, vegetable oil, fresh spinach, ricotta cheese, salt, ground sausage, passata (or tomato sauce), and Parmesan cheese.
And while any type of sausage can work for this recipe, Olayinka keeps it simple. "I personally prefer to use a mild Italian sausage. I think it pairs well with the ricotta and spinach and provides a nice flavor without being too overpowering. However, feel free to experiment with different types of sausage to see what you like best," she says.
Cook the pasta shells
There are a few simple tasks you need to do as you start making your pasta shells. First, preheat the oven to 375 F. Then, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook it according to the package instructions until the shells are al dente — don’t cook them any more than that. Drain the water from the pot and set the shells aside.
Cook the shell filling
As the pasta cooks, add the vegetable oil to a pan or skillet and heat it over medium heat. Add the spinach, ricotta cheese, salt, and sausage to the pan, stirring frequently until the sausage is cooked through and the cheese has melted into the other ingredients. This should take about 10 minutes. Don’t be alarmed: The spinach will wilt and cook down significantly.
Stuff the shells and put them in a casserole dish
Once your stuffing is done, you’re ready to prep your casserole dish and stuff your shells. Star by spreading a layer of passata across the bottom of an oven-safe baking dish. "Passata is a type of tomato purée that is typically made from skinned and crushed tomatoes. It has a smooth texture and slightly sweet flavor, and is often used as a base for tomato-based sauces and soups. You can usually find passata in the Italian section of your local grocery store," Olayinka explains.
With the passata spread in the casserole dish, use a spoon to stuff each pasta shell with the ricotta and sausage mixture. Place the shells in a single layer across the dish until you’ve used all the shells. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese across the top in an even layer.
Bake and serve the stuffed shells
All that’s left to do is bake your stuffed shells! Put the casserole dish in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the sauce starts bubbling and the shells are cooked through with the Parmesan cheese starting to turn a golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve immediately. "This dish is hearty and filling, so I think it would be great served with a simple green salad and some crusty bread," Olayinka suggests. Although, there’s no reason you can’t try other sides, too. "It would also be delicious with a side of roasted veggies," Olayinka says.
If you don’t finish up your shells on the first night, don’t worry: They keep well. You can store them in your fridge and enjoy them for a few days as leftovers.
Any day is a good day for pasta, but when your standard spaghetti is starting to feel stale, you may want to try your hand at making stuffed pasta shells.
- 16 jumbo pasta shells
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 cups fresh spinach
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1½ cups ground Italian sausage
- ½ cup passata
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 375 F.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then add the pasta.
- Cook the pasta shells until al dente according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
- As the pasta cooks, heat the vegetable oil in a separate pan over medium and add the spinach, ricotta cheese, salt, and sausage. Cook until the sausage is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
- Line a casserole dish with the passata.
- Stuff each pasta shell with the ricotta and sausage mixture. Place stuffed shells on top of the passata, then top with Parmesan cheese.
- Bake the shells in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the Parmesan cheese begins to brown.