This super easy, family friendly meal is packed with delicious, comforting Italian flavors and it can be made in just 35 minutes. Kids and adults will both LOVE tucking into a plateful of Stuffed Shells with Sausage and Spinach, and you’ll love how simple it is to prepare. It’s a warm and filling dinner that can stand alone, or be served with your favorite sides to feed a large family or group.
Sausage Stuffed Shells – The EASY Way!
Stuffed shells with sausage and spinach might sound like a fancy technique. And, personally, I think it tastes pretty darn fancy! It’s SO creamy and SO full of rich Italian flavor that it could be served in a restaurant. But, it’s actually SO easy that it can be made even when you’re pinched for dinner on a busy night. Really!
Pasta shells are stuffed with a creamy Italian sausage and tender spinach filling then topped with marinara and cheese to create a unbelievably delicious dinner in just over half an hour. The ingredients are super common too, but they come together to create the ULTIMATE stuffed shell recipe. Not only will your kids love it (mine sure do!), but it can easily stand alone as a complete meal. Add a few sides and this gorgeous pan of rich pasta can feed a big family or a group, no problem.
Why I LOVE this recipe!
- Restaurant Quality Flavor – It looks and tastes like a meal from an Italian restaurant. But it’s actually SO simple to make right at home!
- Easy to Customize – If your family loves extra cheese or sauce, or you prefer different veggies, go ahead and make this recipe your own.
- Super Fast and Easy – You can make these fabulous, creamy stuffed pasta shells in just 35 minutes with common, easy to find ingredients.
- A Complete Meal – There are so many great things you can served with stuffed shells, but it’s filling enough to be a meal all on its own.
What to Serve with Italian Sausage Stuffed Shells
Since this dish has the classic flavors of Italian sausage and marinara, it will pair well with many of your favorite Italian or traditional side dishes. There are both classic options and some healthy options to keep it light.
Side Dish Ideas
- Pesto Roasted Vegetables – The combination of caramelized vegetables tossed with pesto makes a great side dish for an Italian inspired meal.
- Antipasto Salad – Italian cold cuts, tomatoes, olives, and a creamy dressing make this a wonderful, make-ahead salad.
- Green Salad with Creamy Italian Vinaigrette – Add your favorite toppings and an Italian dressing to greens for a fresh and easy addition to dinner.
- Garlic Parmesan Roasted Broccoli – This super easy side is delicious, healthy, and full of cheesy garlic flavor!
- Garlic Cheese Bread – There’s nothing better than a loaf of bread with pasta, and this recipe is SO GOOD!
- Tomato Basil Mozzarella Salad – This simple salad is wonderfully fresh and tasty, and easy to make in advance.
- Baked Asparagus – Try this easy, stress-free baked side to add a healthy green vegetable to your table.
You can choose one or add a few sides to make a wholesome, well rounded dinner.
This stuffed shells with sausage and spinach recipe is as simple as promised! Just 35 minutes for a family friendly meal.
In this section I am going to go through a few tips and tricks I use when making this recipe to get the absolute best and most delicious results.
Make sure to scroll to the bottom for the FULL recipe card.
Ingredients + Substitutions
- Pasta Shells – You’ll only need 1/2 a box to fill a 9×13 casserole dish, which makes this super easy to double for a crowd if you need to. Make sure you get the jumbo ones, not medium, otherwise you won’t be able to fill them.
- Marinara Sauce – Use your favorite jarred or homemade marinara sauce. Since we’re adding Italian sausage to the filling, I’d recommend using one without added meat.
- Mozzarella – Shredded mozzarella makes this a snap to put together but you can use any kind you like. If you like the fresh types that are sold in water, that can work too. Drain the liquid and blot it dry before adding it on top.
- Italian Sausage – You can find Italian sausage in the pork section, near the breakfast meats, or at the butcher counter at most grocery stores. It’s easiest to buy a package of ground meat instead of links. But, if you can only find uncooked links, simply remove the casing so it can be cooked as ground meat instead. You may find mild, sweet, or hot varieties. We like mild, but it’s completely up to you what you use!
- Onion – I used a yellow onion, but you can use white, or replace it with 2-3 shallots instead.
- Cream Cheese – I love cream cheese in this because it adds rich flavor and it’s always super easy to find. You can use light cream cheese, but nonfat doesn’t get as creamy and I don’t usually recommend it. Traditionally stuffed shells are made with ricotta, so feel free to swap that in also if you prefer.
- Parmesan – Pre-shredded works great here, or buy a wedge and grate it yourself. If you can’t find it, Romano, Asiago, or Grana Padano are great alternatives.
- Garlic – I always recommend fresh garlic cloves if you can. If necessary, use 1 teaspoon of granulated garlic powder instead.
- Fresh Spinach – I like the delicate flavor of fresh spinach in this and it’s SO easy to cook. But, if you only have frozen spinach, that’s okay too! Thaw it completely and squeeze off the excess liquid so it doesn’t make the filling watery. You’ll need to substitute with about 1/2 a cup.
- Parsley – Parsley is a very delicate, fresh herb that adds that restaurant quality layer of flavor to the stuffed shells. You can use either curly or flat-leaf parsley.
- Don’t over cook the pasta – This is SUPER important. Make sure you cook the shells ‘al dente’. That means they’re almost completely cooked, but still have a little bit of structure or bite. If they’re boiled too long they can start to fall apart when you try to fill them. Instead we want them to finish off cooking in the oven.
- Drain any excess grease – Some Italian sausage will have a lot of grease when it cooks. Drain that off before you continue with adding the cream cheese.
- Add the spinach at the last minute – Fresh spinach is already super delicate and we’re going to cook a second time in the oven. Wait until the last minute to stir it into the creamy filling so and cook until just barely wilted.
- Place them filling side up – When you begin stuffing your shells with the sausage and spinach mixture, make sure you add them to the casserole dish filling side up. Don’t be afraid to pack them in, it will actually help keep them upright while it bakes.
- Bake uncovered – Since the filling and the shells are already cooked, they don’t need very long in the oven. There’s no need to cover it, and that may actually slow down the cook time.
- Make it your own – Transforming this sausage stuffed shells recipe into the perfect baked pasta for your family is so EASY! You can lighten it up with low fat cream cheese or swap it with ricotta. Substitute some of the sausage with beef, turkey, or chicken to make it less rich. Or, replace the spinach with your favorite veggies like bell pepper or zucchini. Just make sure you allow for less tender veggies to cook and soften a little first by adding it in with the sausage and onions during browning.
Recipe Short Cuts
If you need to make this recipe, but are extra short on time, here are a few ideas that can help make this recipe even faster!
- Buy prepared ingredients– This recipe can be assembled very quickly if you buy pre-shredded cheeses, jarred marinara, and a jar of minced garlic. That will cut down on the prep time and get your spinach stuffed shells in the oven so much faster.
- Prep ahead– To reduce the work you have at dinner time you can pre-cook your pasta shells and the filling. They can be refrigerated up to 48 hours ahead and then simply filled, assembled in the pan, and baked when you’re ready.
- Assemble ahead– If you have time the night or morning, go ahead and completely assemble your stuffed shells in the casserole dish. Cover it and store it in the fridge. Then just slide it into the oven and you’re free to take care of other things while it bakes. Since it will be coming out of the cold fridge, expect to add 10-15 more minutes of bake time.
If you love this recipe as much as we do and want some quick ways to change it up for variety, these little tips will do the trick!
- Lighter Stuffed Shells with Spinach and Sausage– Substitute up to half the Italian sausage with lean ground turkey, but follow the rest of the recipe as directed.
- Stuffed Shells with Sausage and Ricotta– Make a traditional rendition of Italian sausage stuffed shells by swapping the cream cheese with ricotta. Cook the recipe as directed but taste the filling and add a pinch of salt if necessary. I’ve found that some ricottas need it.
- Spicy Sausage Stuffed Shells– Use hot Italian sausage instead of mild to easily make this a spicy stuffed shells recipe without needing to alter the instructions at all!
- Stuffed Shells with Beef and Sausage– Substitute up to half the Italian sausage with ground beef, but follow the rest of the recipe as directed.
Freezer Meal Instructions
Making this easy recipe for stuffed shells with sausage into a freezer meal is simple! Follow the steps below and you can store this recipe in the freezer for up to 6 months.
- Assemble your stuffed shells in a freezer safe baking dish or foil pan.
- Cover tightly and freeze.
- When ready to cook, thaw in the fridge for 24-48 hours.
- Bake as directed, adding 10-15 minutes to the bake time if it’s coming from the fridge cold.
Spinach and Sausage Stuffed Shell Leftovers
If you have leftovers after making stuffed shells, then it is your lucky day! They save and reheat well, and can make the start of another delicious dish.
To save leftovers, separate into meal sized portions and then place in an airtight container and store:
- in the refrigerator for 3-4 days
- in the freezer up to a month
More EASY Pasta Dinner Recipes
If you enjoyed this recipe, I really hope you will take a moment to grab a few more easy recipes for another busy night!
You can check out all of my easy dinner recipes here, or see a few of our readers favorite recipes below.
- 6 ounces dried jumbo pasta shells, about 1/2 box
- 1 1/2 cups marinara sauce
- 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
For the creamy Italian sausage filling
- 1.5 pounds Italian sausage, mild or hot
- 1 onion, diced
- 8 ounces cream cheese
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 4 garlic cloves, pressed
- 8 ounces fresh spinach, chopped
- 3 tablespoons fresh parsley
- Preheat oven to 350˚F.
- Cook pasta shells per package directions.
To make the filling
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Brown the Italian sausage and onion until no longer pink.
- Stir in the cream cheese, parmesan and garlic until melted and creamy.Add the spinach and parsley and stir to combine.
To assemble the pasta shells
- Prepare a 9×13 casserole dish by spreading half of the marinara sauce in the bottom of the pan.
- Once cooked, drain the pasta shells. Add a spoonful of the sausage mixture inside the shell and arrange filling side up in the casserole dish. Repeat with all shells.
- Top with remaining marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted and shells are piping hot.