Tender pasta packed with juicy ground beef and creamy ricotta cheese makes these Meat Stuffed Shells a hearty and comforting meal filled with fresh Italian flavor. Tangy tomato sauce adds brightness to the rich and savory flavors of the filling, bringing this dish into perfect balance.
Cheesy Meat Stuffed Shells With Spinach
These hefty, creamy stuffed shells are bursting with both filling and flavor. The tomatoes bring a welcome bit of acid to complement the rich cheese and savory beef, and the spinach in the filling adds texture and nutrients. Once these shells are baked, the gooey cheese turns a beautiful golden brown on top and wonderfully crispy around the edges. It’s pasta perfection.
This meal is truly packed with warm Italian comfort. Plus, the recipe makes a ton of food, so there will be more than enough left over to make a second meal! Not bad for a dish that only includes 20 minutes of active prep.
What You’ll Need
This recipe is packed with fresh and healthy ingredients. You can find the exact amounts you’ll need by scrolling down to the recipe card.
- Olive Oil
- Onion: Diced.
- Ground Beef: I like using lean beef to keep them a little healthier, but you can use your preferred kind.
- Frozen Spinach: Defrosted, chopped and any excess water squeezed out.
- Garlic: Minced.
- Black Pepper
- Garlic Powder
- Dried Oregano
- Ricotta: Strained.
- Fresh Nutmeg
- Parmesan Cheese
- Jumbo Pasta Shells: Cook these according to package directions.
- Marinara Sauce
- Mozzarella Cheese: Shredded.
How to Make Meat Stuffed Pasta Shells
With only 6 steps and less than 20 minutes of active prep, this meal is so much easier than it looks! Just follow these simple instructions to get more pasta than you can put away in one sitting!
- Prep Your Ingredients: Set the oven to 400°F and let it preheat while you cook the beef and make the filling. Start a pot of jumbo shell pasta boiling on one of your stove’s burners and set a timer according to the package instructions.
- Cook the Beef: Pour the oil into a large skillet over medium heat on a second burner. Add the diced onions and cook them until they soften, which should take about 5 minutes. Put the ground beef in with the onions, breaking it up with a spoon so it browns all the way through. Add the spinach, garlic, salt, pepper, garlic powder and oregano to the beef. Stir to combine everything, then remove the pan from the heat.
- Make the Filling: Put the ricotta cheese, the egg and 1/3 cup of the parmesan cheese in a large bowl. Pour in the beef and spinach filling, then mix it all together until all the ingredients are combined.
- Prepare for Baking: Add 2 cups of the marinara sauce to the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ baking dish. Stuff each shell generously with the filling and place them one at a time into the dish. Once all the shells are filled, cover them with mozzarella cheese and the remaining 2 tablespoons of parmesan.
- Bake: Spray a piece of foil large enough to cover the baking dish with cooking spray, then cover the shells in a dome of foil and place the dish in the oven for 30 minutes.
- Finish and Serve: Remove the foil and return the shells to the oven for another 15 minutes. Then take them out, wait for them to cool, and serve them with a dish of warm sauce on the side if desired.
Can I Make Them Ahead of Time?
Stuffed shells work so well as a make-ahead recipe! They’re perfect for big family gatherings or weeks when you just don’t have time to cook something new every evening. You can make these stuffed shells completely ahead of time, baked through, and then reheat them when you’re ready.
Another option is to stop and store your pasta before the baking step. Just stuff the shells and pop them in the fridge until you’re ready for dinner. Take the shells out of the refrigerator and let them come to room temperature for about 30 minutes, then bake and serve!
Tips for Success
This recipe has turned out great every time I’ve tried it. Here are some tips to help yours come out just as amazing!
- Follow the Pasta Instructions: Make sure you follow the instructions on the pasta box exactly when you make the shells. Adding a little salt to the water before you throw in the pasta will help them come out tender but not too soft. If there’s a range of time for the pasta, go for the shortest. It’s better to have firm shells that keep the filling inside.
- Make All the Shells: Even if you cook them exactly according to the instructions, a shell or two is bound to break. There should be 33-35 shells per box, so make sure to cook all of them in case you end up needing some extra.
- Strain the Ricotta: Make sure you don’t skip this important step. Ricotta is usually sold in a container with liquid at the bottom to keep it from drying out. This extra liquid can make your filling loose or watery, so drain any liquid from the container before adding it to the filling bowl.
- Make Them Your Way: If you prefer your pasta soft with no browning on the cheese or crispy bits around the edges, just leave the aluminum foil on the whole time. Or you can take it off during the last 2 or 3 minutes just to let the cheese get bubbly.
Stuffed shells are super versatile, so there are tons of ways to put your own spin on this recipe. Check out these ideas for inspiration.
- Skip the Spinach: If spinach isn’t your thing, you can definitely leave it out of this recipe. A good substitution would be chopped broccoli, or you can go veggie-free and serve some on the side instead.
- Add Other Veggies: On the flip side, some people want even more veggies! I like to try and sneak in some broccoli, chopped tomato, peppers or zucchini.
- Sub Out the Beef: You can swap the beef out for ground pork or turkey, or even crumbled tofu if you prefer. Another way to make it vegetarian is to leave out the protein entirely, and throw in some extra spinach or some of the veggies listed above.
- Use a Different Sauce: Some people prefer cream sauce to tomato sauce, in which case you can crack open a jar of Alfredo instead. You can also go with a homemade sauce if you have time or leftovers from a previous meal.
For the most part, these stuffed shells make a pretty filling meal on their own, but a light vegetable dish is a great way to add some vitamins and minerals. You can start off with a fresh green salad as an appetizer, or pair this pasta with some Roasted Balsamic Asparagus. And don’t forget to serve a side of fluffy and flavorful Garlic Bread!
How to Store and Reheat Extras
This dish is just as good reheated, so don’t worry about leftovers. Just cover them tightly with plastic or foil or move them to an airtight container. They last for up to 5 days in the fridge, so you’ll have a ready meal any day of the week. It’s so nice to come home at the end of a busy day and know you have something ready to go.
You can reheat your stuffed shells in the microwave or the oven. For the microwave, cook them in 30-second intervals until they have cooked through. To bake them, move them into a baking dish and cover it with foil. Pop them in the oven at 375°F until they’re warmed through.
Do Stuffed Shells Freeze Well?
If you’re freezing fully assembled stuffed shells as weekday meal prep, I recommend freezing them before the baking step. Instead of assembling the shells in a baking dish, assemble them in a freezer-safe container the same way you would when prepping them for the oven. Wrap the whole lidded container in a layer of plastic wrap and a second layer of foil and pop it in the freezer for up to 3 months.
When you take them out to bake them, bake them as you would when they’re fresh, but heat them in the oven for 1 hour instead of 30 minutes before taking off the foil. By the end, the cheese should be completely melted and the shells cooked through.
Fully baked leftovers do pretty well in the freezer too. Just thaw them fully in the refrigerator overnight and reheat them the same way you would straight from the fridge.
More Hearty Pasta DishesPrint
Tender pasta packed with juicy ground beef and creamy ricotta cheese makes Beef Stuffed Shells a hearty and comforting meal filled with fresh Italian flavor. Tangy tomato sauce adds brightness to the rich and savory flavors of the filling, bringing this dish into perfect balance.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3/4 cup diced onion
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 10 ounces frozen, chopped spinach, squeezed out of any excess water
- 2 teaspoons chopped garlic
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- Fresh black pepper to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 cups ricotta
- 1 egg
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
- 1/3 plus 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
- 1 box jumbo pasta shells, cooked according to package directions
- 2 1/2–3 cups marinara sauce
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Boil the pasta shells according to the package instructions.
- Add the oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add the diced onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add the ground beef to the onions, breaking up with a spoon to brown through. If there is a lot of grease after the beef cooks you can drain it and add it back to the skillet.
- Add the spinach, garlic, salt, pepper, garlic powder and oregano to the beef. Stir to combine then remove from the heat.
- Add the ricotta cheese, egg, 1/3 cup of the parmesan cheese to a large bowl. Pour in the beef and spinach filling and mix together.
- Add 2 cups of the sauce to the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ baking dish.
- Stuff the shells generously with the filling and place in the baking dish.
- Repeat with the remaining shells, cover with mozzarella cheese and the remaining 2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese.
- Spray a piece of foil large enough to cover the baking dish with cooking spray, then cover the baking dish and place in the oven for 30 minutes.
- Remove the foil and return the shells to the oven for another 15 minutes. Serve with warmed extra sauce if desired.
- To Freeze Ahead of Time: Freeze before the baking step. Assemble in a freezer-safe container. Wrap lidded container in plastic wrap and foil and freeze for up to 3 months. Cook as directed but bake for 1 hour instead of 30 minutes before taking off the foil.
- To Store: Cover tightly with plastic or foil or place in an airtight container and refrigerate up to 5 days.
- To Freeze Leftovers: Double-bag in freezer bags or keep in a wrapped and lidded airtight container up to 3 months.
- To Reheat Baked Leftovers: If frozen after baking, thaw in fridge overnight. From the fridge, microwave in 30 second intervals until warmed through OR bake in foil-covered a baking dish at 375°F until warmed through.
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Oven
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: stuffed shells with ground beef, stuffed shells with meat, stuffed pasta shells