Cozy, cheesy baked pasta made a little lighter with cottage cheese and lots of spinach. Easy Stuffed Shells are quick to put together for a weeknight dinner and festive enough to serve for a family gathering or holiday. If you prefer a more traditional tasting stuffed shell pasta, use ricotta instead. Both versions are comforting and delicious!
Kids in the Kitchen:
- Squeeze: Give your child a small amount of the frozen spinach in a clean kitchen towel and have them squeeze the water out over the sink. So fun and a great way to get out some energy.
- Stir: Have kids help dump the cheeses and filling ingredients into a big bowl and stir it up.
- Spoon: It might be tricky for younger kids to fill the shells, but you can give them one to try with or just taste test. Older kids can use a spoon or bag to fill some of the shells with you.
- Sprinkle: “Sprinkle the cheese up high so all the shells get some yummy cheese on top.”
Subs and Tips for Easy Stuffed Shells:
- Cottage cheese: My favorite cottage cheese to use for this recipe is the Friendship brand “whipped” cottage cheese (picture in the grid below). It has very small curds and most closely resembles ricotta cheese. If you can’t find whipped cottage cheese, make sure to drain any excess liquid from your regular cottage cheese before using it in the filling.
- Gluten-free: I haven’t seen gluten-free pasta shells in the store before. However, if you can find gluten-free lasagna sheets, you can make lasagna roll-ups with this same filling. Just cook the lasagna sheets, spread the filling on them, and roll them up.
- Spinach: You can use less or more spinach depending on what your family likes. Other vegetables such as cooked broccoli, kale, or mushrooms can be mixed into the filling as well. You can also use fresh baby spinach. Simply chop a few cups of it and mix it into the cheese or sauté it and squeeze out any excess water.
- Make Ahead: This dish can be assembled and refrigerated a day in advance. It might take an extra 5 to 10 minutes to bake if cook it straight from the fridge.
- Freezer friendly: Assemble then stuffed shells then wrap the casserole in plastic wrap then a good layer of foil. To cook it from frozen, preheat the oven to 400 degree and place the pan in uncovered for about an hour. You can also thaw it in the fridge overnight then cook it uncovered in a 40o degree oven for 30-40 min.
Easy Stuffed Shells (with cottage cheese and spinach)
- 1/2 pound jumbo pasta shells
- 16 oz cottage cheese, preferably "whipped" or ricotta cheese
- 4 to 6 oz frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
- 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 Tbsp pesto (optional) adds extra flavor but just leave it out if you don't have any
- 2 cups marinara sauce, divided I use Raos
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking/casserole dish with olive oil or oil spray.
- Cook the pasta shells in boiling salted water for 1 minute less than 'al dente' on the package instructions. Drain in a colander then set aside until cool enough to handle.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl mix the cottage cheese/ricotta, spinach, parmesan, 1 cup shredded mozzarella, salt, garlic powder, pepper, and pesto (if using).
- Spread 1 cup of marinara sauce in the bottom of the baking dish.
- Stuff each pasta shell generously with the cheese mixture. (I use a spoon but you can also use a piping bag or plastic bag with the corner snipped off to squeeze in the filling.) Place the shells lined up tightly next to each other on top of the marinara sauce in the baking dish. If you have any leftover cheese filling, just spoon a little on top of some of the shells.
- Once all of the shells are filled and in the pan. Spoon the remaining 1 cup of marinara sauce over the shells. They don't have to be completely covered. Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups of shredded mozzarella over the top.
- Bake until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes then scoop the cheesy shells onto plates and serve.
- Leftover shells can be stored in the fridge for 4 days.
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More Recipe To Try:
Lazy Lasagna Soup (slow cooker or Instant Pot)