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Spinach and Ricotta Pasta Shells

A dinner party staple, or delicious mid-week meal!
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 40 minutes
Servings 6 people
Calories 528kcal
Author Alexandra


  • 26 large pasta shells See Note 1

Tomato Sauce

  • 3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil See Note 2
  • 1 medium brown/yellow onion - finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic - finely chopped
  • 800 gm (28 ounces) diced tinned tomatoes (2 x 400gm tins)
  • 2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chilli flakes (optional)


  • 1 tablespoon butter See Note 2
  • 250 gm (9 ounces) frozen spinach - thawed
  • 500 gm (17 ½ ounces) ricotta - full fat See Note 3
  • ¾ cup Parmesan cheese - freshly grated See Note 4
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

To Assemble

  • ¾ cup pouring cream
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese - freshly grated


Tomato Sauce

  • In a medium sized frying pan heat oil over medium heat. Add the onion, lower the heat and cook gently, about 7 minutes. Stir the onion a few times, it should soften but not colour.
  • Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes – I always rinse the can out with a little water and add that also.
  • Add the sugar, dried herbs and some salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Bring to a simmer and cook gently, stirring occasionally for 20-30 minutes. Check the seasoning and set the sauce aside.

Pasta Shells

  • Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil.
  • Add the pasta shells and stir well. I cook them for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, but times differ between brands. When I use gluten free shells they take about 5 minutes. Don’t be guided by the cooking time on the packet; the shells must be slightly under cooked as they will finish cooking when heated in the oven.
  • Drain the shells well and spread them out, concave side down, on a clean tea towel to prevent them cooking further and ensure all water drains off.


  • To defrost the spinach, I remove it from its packet and empty it into a bowl. When defrosted, the spinach will have released some water. Hold the spinach in place and tip off the excess liquid that has accumulated in the bowl. 
  • Melt the butter in a medium size frying pan and add the thawed spinach. Gently heat the spinach in the butter and stir occasionally to rid it of excess moisture. 
  • Allow the spinach to cool, then add it to a medium size bowl. Add the ricotta and ¾ cup grated parmesan cheese and mix the ingredients well to combine. Season with grated nutmeg, sea salt and freshly grated black pepper. Check that the seasoning is to your taste.

Assembling the Shells

  • Preheat oven to 180 Degrees C (350 F).
  • In a large ovenproof dish, I put a little of the tomato sauce and about two tablespoons of cream. Spread the mixture around the dish.
  • Generously fill the shells with the ricotta and spinach mixture, using either a spoon or a piping bag. Place the filled shells in the baking dish.
  • Dollop the sauce on and around the shells and smooth a little with the back of a spoon.
  • Drizzle the remaining cream on top and sprinkle with parmesan.
  • To prevent the shells from burning, cover with foil for the first 30 minutes that they're in the oven. Remove the foil and bake uncovered for the final 10 minutes. With the tip of a sharp knife, check that the pasta is completely cooked.



  1. You will need to buy the appropriate pasta shells if you need this dish to be gluten-free.
  2. In Australia the tablespoon is 20 ml or 4 teaspoons. In many other countries the tablespoon is 15 ml or 3 teaspoons. You may have to adjust your measurements accordingly.
  3. I generally buy a tub of ricotta from the supermarket and gently turn it onto paper towel to absorb excess moisture. If you buy a wedge of ricotta from the deli section at the supermarket it has a drier consistency and you will not need to drain it.
  4. For the best flavour, use good quality Parmesan, freshly grated. I use Grana Padano, it has excellent flavour but is less expensive than Parmigiana Reggiano. 
  5. Please note, the nutritional information is an estimate only.


Calories: 528kcal | Carbohydrates: 40g | Protein: 24g | Fat: 30g | Saturated Fat: 15g | Cholesterol: 78mg | Sodium: 473mg | Potassium: 620mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 7g | Calcium: 543mg | Iron: 3.3mg