Cook shells stuffed with spinach and three cheeses in a fabulous tomato sauce with either Italian or chicken sausage and you’ll have an Italian meal that’s restaurant worthy. It makes enough for two dinners, one to enjoy and one to share or freeze for later.
Whether you like to meal prep or need to take dinner to a friend, this comfort food recipe will make enough to feed a crowd with plenty of leftovers.
I love Italian food but was not exposed to it much growing up, so I’ve been trying to recreate some of my favorite classic Italian dishes like stuffed shells with spinach and ricotta. I found that while it takes a little bit of time, it’s really easy to make and it’s one of those comfort food dishes that everyone loves.
Why you’re going to love Italian Stuffed Shells
- Creamy stuffing
- Flavorful sauce
- It makes enough to feed 10
- It freezes great
- Leftovers are even better
The shells themselves are stuffed with a creamy ricotta filling mixed with spinach and parmesan. Once stuffed, you place them on top of a layer of red sauce made with Italian sausage, then extra sauce is placed on top along with mozzarella cheese before baking.
Red pepper flakes add a nice little kick to the sauce which is full of flavor from the sausage. I’ve used both chicken sausage and Italian sausage and both were awesome. Stuffed shells with sausage is my favorite dinner to take to a friend who needs a night off from cooking.
Back to the recipe, if you want to lighten things up a bit, use chicken sausage and skim ricotta. I was afraid that the sauce would overwhelm the rest of the dish, but it combined perfectly so that you could taste all of the flavors.
Giant Cheese Stuffed Shells ingredients
- Jumbo shells – this recipe is enough to use the entire 12 ounce box.
- Italian sausage – you can substitute chicken sausage.
- Crushed and pureed tomatoes.
- Seasoning for the sauce – onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning and a little sugar.
- Spinach – frozen that has been squeezed dry.
- Ricotta – whole will make it taste creamier and if you have an Italian market close by buy theirs. You can use skim, it just won’t be quite as creamy.
- Parmesan and mozzarella – the parmesan for flavor and the mozzarella for the gooey cheese factor.
- Eggs – to keep the filling all together
PRO TIP: Buy the frozen spinach in a bag. Once thawed, poke holes in the bag and squeeze out the liquid. Then just pat dry with a paper towel.
How to make Stuffed Shells with Spinach
Cook pasta, drain and sprinkle with a little olive oil so they don’t stick together. Don’t overcook, they need to still be a little firm.
Cook the sausage and onions and then add the seasoning, crushed tomatoes and tomato puree and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Spread about ¾ of the sauce on the bottom of the baking dishes. If you want a thinner sauce, add about a ½ cup of water.
Combine ricotta with parmesan, ½ the mozzarella, spinach and eggs.
Stuff the shells with about a tablespoon of the cheese mixture and place on top of the sauce in the baking dish.
Cover with remaining sauce and mozzarella and cover with foil.
Bake for 35 minutes, remove the foil and bake an additional 5 minutes.
What to serve with Stuffed Shells with Cheese
Since you have meat, carbs and veggies all in one dish, this dish can easily stand alone. But you can round it out with a simple salad and some bread.
How to store these Cheese Stuffed Shells
Can you freeze Giant Cheese Stuffed Shells?
Since this makes a large portion, I will divide it into two baking dishes and freeze one before baking. You can also bake it and then let it cool to room temperature and freeze already cooked. If freezing it unbaked, let it thaw to room temperature before baking.
The last time I made stuffed shells, they were out of shells at the grocery and I used manicotti instead. It tastes the same but takes a lot longer to stuff the manicotti then the it takes to stuff shells.
Jumbo Stuffed Shells with Spinach FAQs
They need to be al dante, still pretty firm so that they don’t fall apart when you stuff them. They will continue to cook while it bakes.
Yes, this freezes well. You can freeze it before it has baked or bake it and let it cool completely before freezing.
Yes, I love the flavor of chicken sausage.
The only difference is in the shape of the pasta. Manicotti is a long tube and is harder to stuff than an open shell.
If you don’t completely drain the pasta you could get extra liquid in the sauce. Let the shells drain completely before adding the filling.
The large pasta shells are referred to as Jumbo shells or Conchiglie.
More Pasta recipes you’ll love
- Baked pasta with vodka sauce
- Italian sausage with bucatini
- Spaghetti with short rib sauce
- Penne with artichokes
- Lasagna with bechámel
- Shrimp and carbonara
- Lemon chicken with penne
- Pasta and Cauliflower
- Shrimp and spinach pasta
Inspired by Jamie Deen’s Good Food
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Italian Stuffed Shells with Cheese and Spinach
- 12 ounce box jumbo pasta shells
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 lb. Italian sausage pork or chicken, casings removed
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 28 ounces crushed tomatoes
- 15 ounces tomato puree
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 15 ounces ricotta cheese
- 10 ounces frozen spinach thawed and squeezed dry
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese grated
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese grated
- Cook pasta, drain and sprinkle with a little olive oil to keep it from sticking together, let cool.
- Preheat oven to 350º. Spray two 9 x 13 baking dishes with cooking spray.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and once it’s hot, add sausage and cook until browned, stirring and breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon, for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the onion and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant.
- Stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato puree, Italian seasoning and sugar, simmer on medium-high heat for 15 minutes. Add salt as needed.
- Mix ricotta, spinach, parmesan, eggs, and 1 cup mozzarella in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper, and stir until combined.
- Spread most of the sauce on the bottom of the prepared dishes. Stuff shells with about 1 tablespoon of the cheese mixture and place in the pans. Cover with additional sauce. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes, removing the foil during the last 5 minutes of baking.
Barbara’s Tips + Notes
- If you want a thinner sauce, add ½ cup of water with the tomatoes.
- Don’t over cook the pasta, it should still be firm, it will continue to cook in the oven.
- To remove the moisture from the spinach, poke holes in the bag and wring it out so the fluid comes out the holes, then just pat with a paper towel.
- You can assemble this in advance and refrigerate for a day before baking.
- If you want to freeze the second dish, let it come to room temperature and then cover with plastic wrap and then foil. Let thaw completely in the refrigerator and bake as above.