Baked conchiglioni pasta shells with spinach and ricotta.
Conchiglioni ripieni di ricotta e spinaci.
Baked pasta is a favourite here in Italy for Sunday lunches and holiday menus. And, baked pasta shells with spinach and ricotta is among the most popular recipes on these occasions. Apart from being delicious, baked pasta shells look so beautiful and can also be eaten as finger food if the recipe doesn’t include a lot of sauce.
Traditional baked pasta shell recipes.
Conchiglioni are the most well-known and loved large pasta shells in Italy and abroad. However, lumaconi (snail shells) are beautiful too! The two most traditional baked pasta shell dishes are either with a meat ragu filling or like this recipe for pasta shells with spinach and ricotta.
Pasta di Gragnano.
Conchiglioni are a typical southern Italian pasta, originating from Campania. For the best quality conchiglioni, if you can, look for pasta di Gragnano IGP. This is pasta made in and around the town of Gragnano near Naples, where they have been producing pasta commercially since the 1500s.
Gragnano is home to some of Italy’s best dried pasta makers. In fact, for a pasta to be labelled as ‘di Gragnano IGP’ it must be produced in a legally specified area in and around the Bay of Naples. Plus, it must be made with Italian durum wheat and water from the Monti Lattari.
Of course, other pasta companies produce good quality pasta and if you can’t find ‘di Gragnano’, don’t worry! Your dish is still bound to be delicious! This recipe can also be made with lumaconi or cannelloni.
Italians usually serve pasta as a first course (primo piatto) on special occasions and then follow it with a meat or fish main course. This is why, especially nowadays, many prefer to use a vegetarian pasta recipe, rather than meat. It just makes the meal lighter. Of course, this pasta shells with spinach and ricotta is also a great recipe for vegetarians.
Making this baked pasta shells with spinach and ricotta.
Although not a difficult dish to make, this pasta shells with spinach and ricotta involves a few separate cooking steps. The pasta needs precooking. You’ll have to make a simple tomato sauce, as well as some béchamel. Also, the spinach needs to be precooked too and then mixed with the other filling ingredients. To speed things up, you can use ready-made tomato sauce and béchamel, in addition to defrosted frozen spinach. However, I believe fresh is best so if you have the time, it’s worth the effort!
Whichever way you decide to make this pasta shells with spinach and ricotta recipe, I’m sure it will not only be seriously yummy but family and guests will love it too! If you do decide to make this recipe, I’d love to hear how it turns out. You can send me an email through this site, rate the recipe and add a comment or post a message on the Pasta Project Facebook page.
Looking forward to hearing from you!
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Baked conchiglioni pasta shells with spinach and ricotta
- 250 g conchiglioni pasta shells (9oz) you can also use lumaconi
For the filling
- 300 g fresh ricotta (10.5oz)
- 1 kg fresh spinach (2.2lbs) or 300 g frozen spinach (10.5oz)
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 70 g Parmigiano or Grana cheese (2.5oz) grated
- salt for pasta, tomato sauce and to taste
- black pepper to taste
For tomato sauce
- 3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 700 g tomato passata (I use rustica) (1.5lbs) or 400 g peeled San Marzano tomatoes (14oz)
- 2 garlic cloves peeled
For the bechamel
- 75 g all purpose flour (2.6oz)
- 75 g butter (2.6oz)
- 500 ml milk (16floz) add more milk if necessary
- 1 pinch nutmeg
- 50 g Parmigiano or Grana cheese (2oz) grated
To make the filling
- Whether using fresh or frozen, cook the spinach as normal without adding any extra liquid. Drain the spinach making sure you have removed as much liquid as possible then, once it has cooled, chop it and mix it in a bowl with the ricotta, the eggs and the Parmigiano, adding nutmeg, salt and pepper as required.
Cook the pasta
- Put a pan of water on to boil for the pasta. Add salt when it starts to boil and bring to the boil again. Cook the conchiglioni a little less than the time required for al dente, then drain and let the pasta cool. (it’s better to separate the shells before they cool as they may stick together)
To make the tomato sauce
- Heat the olive oil in a frying pan or skillet, add the whole peeled garlic cloves and cook until they start to soften and brown. Add the tomato passata or the fresh peeled San Marzano tomatoes (I also like to use half passata and half unpeeled fresh cherry or datterini tomatoes). Let the sauce simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove the garlic when the sauce is ready.
To make the bechamel
- Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour a little at a time, whilst stirring continuously, until you have a smooth paste. Add the milk a little at a time, again continuously stirring, until the sauce starts to thicken. If your béchamel seems lumpy you can use a hand blender to make it smoother. I like to add a pinch of nutmeg to the béchamel.
Put the dish together
- Cover the bottom of an oven dish with some of the tomato sauce and some béchamel. With the help of a teaspoon or small tablespoon, take a little of the filling and fill each conchiglioni, then place it in the oven dish.
- Add some more béchamel to the top of each pasta shell. Pour the rest of the tomato sauce over the shells and finish with a sprinkling of Parmigiano, then bake in a preheated oven 180- 200° C for about 20 minutes until the top starts to brown.
- Serve immediately with extra grated Parmigiano or grana if required.
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