Stuffed Shells with Meat Sauce
There are so many reasons to love these Stuffed Shell with Meat Sauce. Make ahead, freezer friendly, easily adaptable for vegetarians, and really, these shells are just delicious! A Mountain Mama family favorite for sure!
STUFFED SHELLS WITH MEAT SAUCE
Call me lazy but stuffed shells aren’t something I make often. Or at least that used to be the case. They’re just a little fussy, you know? While none of the recipe is actually hard, there are multiple steps and stuffing the shells can feel a little tedious. I’ve changed my tune though as I think the little extra effort is more than worth it. Especially if you double the recipe and freeze half so you have an easy dinner down the road!
STUFFED SHELL FILLING
My favorite part of these stuffed shells is definitely the spinach-ricotta filling. Creamy, savory, a little bit sweet thanks to the ricotta, and the addition of spinach, chives and basil add the perfect fresh notes. The egg makes it just rich enough, and the Parmesan adds a welcome salty note. It really is delicious!
EASY MEAT SAUCE
Browned sausage + jarred marinara = the easiest meat sauce in the history of meat sauces. 🙂
Any browned, ground meat works well here. I’ve used ground beef, ground chicken, turkey sausage, and Italian sausage. My favorite is actually browned breakfast sausage. I know, I know. It sounds a little weird but it’s great. Jimmy Dean will forever be my favorite.
Rao’s is, hands down, my favorite jarred marinara. It’s expensive but worth every penny.
MAKING THE SHELLS VEGETARIAN
There are a few ways to make these stuffed shells vegetarian. You can simply omit the ground meat and just used the marinara as is. Another way- and my recommendation- is to sauté a pound or so of finely chopped mushrooms and then add the marinara as directed.
MAKING SHELLS AHEAD OF TIME
Like I mentioned above I usually double the recipe and freeze a tray of shells to make at a later time. Make the shells as directed. Instead of baking, let the shells cool completely and then cover tightly with plastic wrap and then foil. You can store the shells in the fridge for up to days. Bake as directed.
Freezing the shells is a great way to save yourself on a busy night! You’ll thank yourself (and me!) when you find yourself wondering what’s for dinner and remember that you’ve got a tray stashed in the freezer. After wrapping the totally cooled shells, store in the fridge for up to 3 months. Remove the plastic, cover again with foil and bake as directed, adding 15-20 extra minutes to the baking time to compensate for the frozen shells.
OTHER DELICIOUS BAKED PASTA RECIPES
Here are a few of my favorite baked pasta dishes that are make ahead and family friendly!
Baked Chicken & Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese
Cheesy Baked Tortellini with Pepperoni
Baked Rigatoni with Cauliflower and Sausage
I hope you’ll love these stuffed shells with meat sauce as much as my family does! If you try them please leave a comment below and share on Instagram! Have a delicious week and thanks for reading! xo, Kelley
photos by Deborah DeKoff/ recipe by Mountain Mama CooksPrint
Stuffed Shells with Meat Sauce
A delicious, easy, weeknight stuffed shells recipe with a spinach-ricotta filling and savory meat sauce.
- 1 lb. sausage (pork, chicken, Italian, breakfast….whatever you like!)
- 32 oz marinara sauce
- 1 lb. baby spinach
- 12 oz giant pasta shells
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 15 oz ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons minced chives
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
- In a medium stock pot or sauce pan, add the sausage and cook over medium-high heat. *If using a lean sausage like turkey or chicken, you’ll need to add a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Brown the sausage, breaking into pieces as it cooks. Drain excess fat. Add sausage and marinara back to the pot and simmer on low while you prepare the shells.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt generously. Fill a bowl with ice water. Blanch the spinach, just until wilted, about 20 seconds and transfer to the ice water, then drain. Squeeze out excess water. Bring the water in the pot back to a boil and add the pasta shells. Cook al dente, about 10 minutes, and drain and toss with the olive oil. Set aside.
- Put spinach and minced garlic in the food processor and pulse until spinach is finely chopped. Add ricotta cheese, egg, minced chives, basil, Parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste. Process until well blended.
- Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Coat the bottom of a large baking dish or two 2-quart dishes with about 1/3 of the marinara sauce. Fill each shell with a tablespoon or so of the spinach-ricotta filling. Arrange in a single layer in the baking dish. The shells should fit into the dish(es) in one layer. Top with the remaining tomato sauce and the shredded mozzarella. Cover the dish with foil.
- Bake 30 minutes in the preheated oven. Remove from the heat and serve immediately.
To freeze: prepare shells up to step 4. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and then again with foil. Freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to bake, remove foil and plastic, cover again with just foil, and bake as directed adding 15-20 minutes longer time to compensate for being frozen.
Hi Kelley – this looks great. Trying to find a casserole dish that freezes well. Any reason why it is necessary to mince the chives and garlic since it is all going into a food processor? a small chop would probably do, right? Also, why is spinach being blanched? It will get cooked in the oven. Trying to find short cuts! 🙂 Let me know, though, if you’ve tried it the way I have suggested and it doesn’t work. Don’t want to make a mistake! Thank you!!
Totally your call. I like to do more than a rough chop so all the ingredients incorporate a little better. I personally wouldn’t skip blanching the spinach- the consistency is silkier when it’s been blanched. With that being said, you could totally skip it if you want.
Thanks! I will follow the recipe then. I appreciate your feedback. Have a great day! – Brianna
I love your stuff shells eats it all the time