Spinach & Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells

Spinach & Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells

Spinach and cheese.

It’s probably one of the best pairings of the food world. Why else would so many countries in the world have their own take on this classic combination? America has her spinach dip, India her saag paneer, Greece her spanakopita. Cyprus pairs spinach with Halloumi, Italy with ricotta. The flavours, the textures, the colours – they just work beautifully together.

This dish is one such example. It starts off with these two long-established best friends meeting up, then deciding they need to invite pasta, tomato sauce and cheese and get a party going. And what a party it is! Meanwhile you, as the party planner, find a deep sense of satisfaction in assembling all the components and facilitating this union. There’s definitely something very smugness-inducing about the dispatch of a dish to the oven, patiently waiting for heat and food chemistry to do their job and the subsequent emergence of the delicious, comforting result in all its steaming glory.

And here’s the brilliant news: despite the various components, it’s not difficult to make. And it’s very forgiving too. Don’t have pasta shells? Make with cannelloni. Missing ricotta? I often substitute paneer which I have a better chance of having at hand. No time for the tomato sauce? Use your favourite jarred one from the supermarket. For the cheese topping, I like mozzarella alone or a mixture of mozzarella and grana padano but you could also use a mixture of mozzarella, cheddar, parmesan etc. You could also make the stuffing and the sauce in advance – just bring it to room temperature before you assemble the dish.

This post is especially for two people very dear to me: my daughter, the most dedicated pasta lover I know and my friend Chandra, who has been a great supporter of this blog and had requested this recipe.

Spinach & Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells

A mixture of spinach & ricotta is stuffed into giant pasta shells, which are then topped with a tomato sauce and cheese and baked.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 2 people

Ingredients
  

Spinach Stuffing:

  • 25 g butter salted or unsalted
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped about 60 g in weight, ⅓ cup in volume
  • 2 fat cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 200 g spinach, finely chopped
  • 1 250g tub of ricotta cheese Or a pack of paneer (200 - 225g), crumbled
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Tomato Sauce:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil I use 'light in colour' as I prefer a neutral-tasting oil for this
  • 1 tbsp butter salted or unsalted
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped about 60 g in weight, ⅓ cup in volume
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 x 400g can finely chopped tomatoes or use the same quantity of fresh tomatoes, chopped finely
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp salt or to taste
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp chilli flakes optional

Rest:

  • 200 g giant shells (conchiglie), about 20 I used Tesco Finest Conchiglie Rigate
  • 10 g butter for greasing the dish
  • 150 - 250 g mozzarella cheese block, not pre-grated

Instructions
 

Spinach Stuffing:

  • In a medium pan, melt the butter on a gentle heat, then add the onion and garlic and saute, stirring occasionally for 5-10 minutes until the onion is soft but not coloured.
  • Add spinach & a large pinch of salt and cook over high heat until the spinach wilts. Keep frying until all the liquid in the mixture evaporates. This could take 10 - 15 minutes depending on the heat and the size of your pan.
  • Add the ricotta/paneer and stir to mix. Taste and season accordingly with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl. Wipe the pan with kitchen paper and use it to make the tomato sauce next.

Tomato Sauce:

  • Add the oil and butter to the pan, then heat gently until the butter melts. Add the onion and garlic and saute, stirring occasionally for 5-10 minutes until the onion is soft but not coloured.
  • Now add the can of tomatoes, oregano, salt and sugar. Bring up to a boil and simmer for a minute or two. Turn off the heat, add the lemon zest, black pepper and chilli flakes, if using. Taste, adjust seasonings if necessary, cover and set aside.

Assembly:

  • Preheat oven to 180° C. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil and add the pasta. Cook for 5 minutes only. The pasta needs to be only par-cooked as we'll finish cooking it in the oven. Drain and set aside to cool slightly.
  • Butter an ovenproof dish (mine is about 9" x 9", 23 x 23 cm). Stuff each pasta shell with about 1/2 a tbsp of the spinach filling and place in the baking dish. Repeat with all the shells, then top with the tomato sauce. Sprinkle the cheese in an even layer on top, cover the dish with foil and bake, covered, for about 20 - 25 minutes . Preheat the grill.
  • Uncover, and place under the grill for a few minutes until the cheese is golden.
Keyword baked, mozzarella, paneer, pasta, ricotta, spinach, tomatoes


2 thoughts on “Spinach & Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells”

  • Another awesome recipe suman ! can Never go wrong with your Recipes .
    yum yum ..
    we all enjoyed it , very Tasty and quite filling too .
    Thank you so much for sharing

  • suman …. in honesty your presentation and Description of the Recipe is to just amazing ..cant stop myself from trying .

    superb ! love it .
    Thanks

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