The recipe filling mixture is whole milk ricotta cheese, parmesan, mozzarella, sautéed spinach, garlic, parsley, basil and egg to bring all of the yumminess together.
These cheesy pasta shells make me smile. The first time I had oozy cheesy stuffed pasta shells, I was hooked! It’s such a simple yet comforting meal, and I think being a kid I thought the shape was really neat. In fact, my mom used to buy a big bag of these pre-filled pasta shells from Costco, so I could just heat them up, top with sauce and have them whenever my heart desired. Nothing fancy, but I liked them haha.
My husband Jason also grew up eating stuffed shells, but he was lucky enough to have his Italian mom Joan make them from scratch! I wanted to make a nostalgic throwback dish for the both of us, so I stuffed jumbo pasta shells with spinach and cheese filling, and then topped it with some homemade tomato sauce with sausage. Each cute little shell was delicious and satisfied our childhood cravings. I hope you enjoy this spinach and cheese stuffed shells with meat sauce recipe as much as our family does!
So here’s the fun part, stuffing the shells! The mixture is whole milk ricotta cheese, parmesan, mozzarella, sautéed spinach, garlic, parsley, basil and egg to bring all of the yumminess together. I use a large resealable plastic bag with the tip cut off to generously fill each shell.
I like to set each filled shell on a sheet pan before I transfer them into the baking pan with the sausage marinara sauce, you know, try to be a bit organized when I can, hehe.
So about this super fast and tasty sausage marinara sauce. It’s quick, under 30 minutes! I simmer ripe canned San Marzano crushed tomatoes for the marinara sauce along with some chopped onions, garlic and, of course, some savory, mild Italian sausage. If you like your sauce on the spicier side, add some hot Italian sausage, yum!
The cute jumbo stuffed shells gets nestled into the savory sausage tomato sauce, topped with some parmesan cheese, covered with foil, and in the oven they go until hot and bubbly, about 30 minutes, oh I can’t wait!
Hey you oozy yummy gooey cheeeeezzzzy pasta shells, I want to eat you now, please. I honestly had a hard time just eating two, more like 3 or four where then were fresh out of the oven.
With our tummies satisfied, this is a family comfort food feast! If you are looking for more Italian inspired dishes, try my recipe for Grandma’s Meatballs, lasagna with meat sauce, or hearty chicken parmesan. Mangia, Mangia!
How do I make a flavorful and tender meat sauce?
The more time you allow the sauce to simmer, the more the flavors concentrate as some of the liquid evaporates. Also the natural acids in the tomatoes (predominately malic and citric acid) helps to tenderize the meat over time. I like to use vine ripened can tomatoes because they contain a lower amount of acid, making the tomatoes sweeter for a more balanced flavor in the sauce.
Cheese Stuffed Shells with Italian Sausage Sauce
- 16 jumbo pasta shells, cook a couple of extra shells in case some break while the pasta cooks
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons garlic, fresh, minced
- 4 cups spinach leaves, packed fresh, roughly chopped, 5 ounces
- 12 ounces ricotta cheese, whole milk, (1 ½ cups)
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated, plus more for garnish
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon Italian parsley, fresh, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon basil, fresh, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
- 1 pinch nutmeg, grated
- 3 cups marinara sauce, recipe to follow
Sausage Marinara Sauce-
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1/2 pound mild Italian sausage
- 1/2 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 28 ounces crushed tomatoes, can of San Marzano plum tomatoes recommended
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano, fresh or 1/4 teaspoon dried
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, freshly grated, plus more as needed
- In a medium-sized saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add sausage and break up into small pieces as it cooks, about 5 minutes or until the meat in no longer pink. Set aside.
- In a medium sized pot, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion to the pan and cook until for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the tomato paste and cook for one more minute. Add the crushed tomatoes and oregano and stir well to combine. Raise the heat and bring the sauce to a simmer. Add the cooked sausage to the sauce. Cover the pan, leaving a small opening for steam to escape, and lower the heat to low so that the sauce is just simmering, cook for 20 minutes. Add some water if the sauce starts to look dry. Season sauce with salt and pepper, more to taste.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F degrees. Bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot. Cook the pasta al dente, about 9 minutes, or according to package directions. Drain pasta and place shells on a sheet pan and set aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the garlic and cook until fragrant but not browned, about one minute. Add the spinach and cook, occasionally stirring , until the leaves begin to wilt but are still bright green, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.
- In a mixing bowl, stir together the spinach, ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, egg, parsley, basil, salt, pepper, and nutmeg until thoroughly combined. Pour the sausage marinara sauce into the bottom of a shallow baking dish that can hold 16 shells (8-inch by 8-inch or 7-inch by 11-inch works well). Transfer cheese filling into a large re-sealable plastic bag or piping bag. Cut off the edge of the bag, and pipe each pasta shell with a generous amount of the spinach and ricotta mixture, and place in the baking dish.
- Cover the shells with aluminum foil and bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue cooking until the sauce begins the bubble, about 5 minutes. Serve warm with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.