These cheesy, spinach stuffed shells are the first of many meals I hope to share with you from my mom. I have resolved to post a recipe the first Thursday of every month of something that I ate while growing up and this delicious dish is one of my favorites. I’ve made it a million times, so many that I no longer need a recipe. It’s pretty fool-proof, so exact ingredients and measurements are not required. You’ll love it because it can be modified to your liking. Don’t like spinach, don’t use it. Want to add some spicy Italian sausage. Cook some up, drain the grease, and add it to the mix. Want only cheese, then do just that. Want to add different cheeses than the ones I’ve listed, so be it. Seriously, it would be hard to mess these shells up. There are a few key steps that you should follow, but other than that, go crazy! You won’t regret it.
My favorite combination for this dish is a four cheese and spinach stuffing. I occasionally add a spicy Italian sausage, but the spinach and cheese mix is what I grew up on so I usually stick with it. I buy the frozen chopped spinach in the freezer section of the grocery store. You could use fresh, but it’s a little bit more of a pain to wash and cook. The frozen stuff tastes just as good, and it’ll reduce your prep time. I defrost it in the microwave, just enough so that all the ice has melted, and then I drain all the water out. I mean squeeze, squeeze, squeeze until the spinach has no more liquid. If you don’t do this and just add it to the mix as is, you’ll end up with soupy cheese shells. Gross! This is the same with any other vegetable that you may substitute and if you decide to use meat, make sure you drain off any excess grease before adding it to the cheese mix.
For the cheese mix I tend to use a combination of mozzarella, parmesan, ricotta and cottage cheese. I use the store bought shredded bags of cheese for the mozzarella and parmesan. I’m sure fresh grated cheese would taste delicious, but this dish is really about the ease of assembly, so I go with the shredded bags. I also use a little bit of cottage cheese in this mix because the ricotta is already so dry, and adding the shredded cheese doesn’t add much moisture, so the cottage cheese gives your mix a little something to make it stick. I throw in one beaten egg which also aids in keeping the cheese mix together.
When boiling the noodles, follow the package directions. They are pretty spot on, just make sure you do not over cook them. The shells should be al dente and will finish cooking in the oven. Over cook the noodles in the beginning and you’ll have mushy shells by the time you pull them out of the oven. Also. before you begin stuffing the shells and setting in your baking dish, pour a layer of sauce in the bottom. This will keep your shells from sticking to the dish, you’ll thank your self when you are spooning them out.
1 box jumbo shells
10 oz frozen spinach, thawed and drained
6 oz parmesan cheese
6 oz mozzarella cheese, plus additional to sprinkle on top
15 oz ricotta cheese
15 oz cottage cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 jar pasta sauce
salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cook and drain jumbo shells according to package directions.
In large mixing bowl, add parmesean, mozzarella, ricotta, cottage cheese and beaten egg.
Mix until combined.
Add spinach and mix until evenly dispersed throughout mix.
Season cheese mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
In a 9 x 13 baking dish, coat bottom of pan with pasta sauce.
Stuff cook shells with cheese mixture and line in pan until full.
Pour remaining pasta sauce evenly over shells.
Sprinkle remaining mozzarella cheese over pasta sauce.
Cover dish with foil and put in preheated oven for 45 minutes or until the sauce begins to bubble.
Remove foil and cook an additional 15 minutes or until cheese on top has melted.
Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes before serving.