Preparation Time: 30 to 40 minutes
Baking Time: 45 to 60 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6 Servings
There is absolutely nothing like a fancy Italian dinner at your favorite restaurant, with the flavors of savory herbs, rich cheeses, and tangy tomatoes. However, for many people on tight budgets or for those who are just saving their pennies for a rainy day, dining out isn’t something that can happen very often. But, did you know that you can recreate some of your favorite dishes from your favorite restaurants for only a fraction of the cost of what dining out might be? This recipe for Spinach and Three Cheese Stuffed Shells offers a gorgeous presentation, fantastic flavors, and is economical as well.
Our recipe for Spinach and Three Cheese Stuffed Shells looks absolutely amazing. It’s a feast for the eyes as well as for the mouth. The red tomato sauce, green spinach, and the herbs, along with the golden-brown of the baked cheese make this a colorful and enticing dish. The shells themselves are a fanciful twist on traditional pasta dishes. When you look at the photos of this recipe you may say to yourself, “That has to be hard. It looks so good, and there’s no way that I can create something that looks that great!”
If you’re thinking that the difficulty of this recipe puts it out of your reach, prepare to be surprised. This recipe does take a little bit of time, but it isn’t hard at all. The steps of making Spinach and Three Cheese Stuffed Shells are basic ones that most people with any kitchen experience can tackle with confidence–cooking pasta, browning meat, and stirring mixtures are really all that it takes.
Traditionally, ricotta is used in many cheesy Italian pasta dishes. However, for this one, we mixed it up a little bit by using cottage cheese. This gives the dish a somewhat milder flavor. You can choose whichever version of cheese you prefer.
One great thing about this recipe is that you can prepare this dish ahead of time if the day that you want to serve it is likely to be a busy one. Do everything but the baking of the pasta dish. Just cover it tightly in foil and refrigerate it for up to three days before baking. You can pop the refrigerated dish straight into the oven.
Spinach and Three Cheese Stuffed Shells is a very hearty dish. To round out the meal, serve it with garlic bread and a Caesar salad. If you are having guests for dinner or you are just treating the ones that you love, prepare to wow them with this fabulous dish. By the way, our recipe creates hearty servings for four. If you are serving more than that or you’re hoping for leftovers, feel free to double the recipe and bake it in a large nine by thirteen-inch dish.
Spinach and Three Cheese Stuffed Shells Recipe
- 15-20 jumbo pasta shells (You may want to cook a few extras in case some of them tear)
- 1 ½ cups frozen spinach
- 1 cup cottage cheese (or ricotta, your choice)
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 ½ cup mozzarella cheese
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese
- 1 jar of ready-made pasta sauce
- 1 pound Italian sausage
- (Optional) Red pepper flakes
Step 1: Cook the jumbo pasta shells in boiling water according to package instructions.
However, you should cook them slightly less than the time that is recommended on the box. If they are cooked too soft, it will be difficult to fill them. Our package recommended cooking them for 15 minutes, so we cooked them for 11 minutes. Drain the shells and rinse them with cool running water to stop them from cooking. Let them drain in the colander while you prepare the rest of the dish.
Step 2:Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a medium-sized casserole dish with cooking spray and set it aside.
Brown the Italian sausage in a large skillet and drain the fat.
Step 3:Put the cooked sausage in the bottom of the casserole dish and stir in about ⅔ of the pasta sauce.
Stir to combine and spread the sauce mixture evenly in the casserole dish.
Step 4:Thaw the spinach by microwaving it in a small bowl, thirty seconds at a time, stirring each time the microwave stops.
It took us about 60 to 90 seconds of total microwaving time. After you microwave the spinach, pour off any extra moisture in the bowl, using a spoon to press out any extra water. Then use a paper towel to blot out any excess water.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, using a fork, stir together the cottage cheese, herbs, spinach, garlic, and the egg. Add one cup of the mozzarella cheese and all of the Parmesan cheese to the mixture, stirring well.
Step 5:Take a pasta shell and fill it with about 1 ½ tablespoon of the cheese mixture.
Gently use a spoon to fill the shells. Take your time. Set each shell neatly in the pan. Repeat, dividing the cheese mixture among all of the shells.
Step 6:Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella over the tops of the shells. If you want to add a little spice, sprinkle ¼ to ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes over the top of the whole dish.
If you plan on baking the shells later, cover the baking pan with aluminum foil or a tightly fitting lid and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Step 7:When you’re ready to bake, cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 45-60 minutes, removing the foil for the last 15 minutes of baking to brown the cheese.
Step 8:Remove from the oven and let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes to cool a bit before serving.
April Freeman enjoys creating all kinds of recipes for her friends and family from her country kitchen in Middle Tennessee. She and her family raise beef cattle, chickens, and all sorts of fruits and veggies on their farm, and she specializes in featuring farm-fresh foods in the recipes that she creates and serves. April says that her slogan is “Are you hungry?” and she feels that one way of showing love and connecting with others is to serve delicious favorite foods to others. Her favorite thing to cook is pies of all kinds.