When I was pregnant, my biggest project (aside from, you know, growing a couple of humans inside of me) was to fill our freezer with prepared foods and easy meals for after the babies were born. It’s something that everyone with a spare freezer should do, really, pregnant or not. You never know when there’s going to be a day or two or five when you just… don’t want to deal with cooking.

This was my absolute favorite of the meals that I made during that frenetic cooking spree, and I still make it to stock the freezer. My recipe basically makes a big double batch – for me, it’s two 9×13 pans, so we eat one and freeze one. When it was just the two of us, I made it in three or four square pans, so the leftovers didn’t last forever. I buy packs of foil baking pans in various sizes when they’re on sale and keep them tucked up in a pantry cupboard. I assemble freezer meals in them, cover them with foil, and stick them in the freezer. You can even just write the cooking instructions directly on the foil with a permanent marker!

stuffed shells

Stuffed Shells with Prosciutto and Spinach

2 boxes jumbo pasta shells*
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces prosciutto, chopped (I just buy the thin-sliced stuff from the deli and chop it)
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
1 box chopped frozen spinach, thawed in microwave and thoroughly drained (put it in a towel and squeeze it mightily over the sink!)
1 24-oz container of part-skim ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese, plus another cup or so for the top
1 teaspoon dried oregano
pinch of salt and pepper
2 jars prepared marinara sauce (or about 8 cups of your own)

  • Cook shells to al dente according to package instructions. Spread on a countertop lined with foil to cool; make sure to separate any that have stuck together. I drizzle them with a little olive oil to stop them sticking to each other.
  • Heat olive oil over medium heat in a saute pan; when hot, add the onions and saute until softened. Add garlic and cook for another minute or two; add prosciutto and cook for another minute. Add spinach and stir until warmed through and mixed well. Remove from heat to cool a bit.
  • In a large bowl, beat the eggs and add the ricotta cheese. Mix well. Season with salt, pepper, and oregano; add the onion, prosciutto, and spinach mixture and stir together. Add the mozzarella cheese and stir.
  • In each of two 9×13 pans, spread about a cup of marinara sauce to cover the bottom. Stuff each shell with about two tablespoons of filling – enough to make it plump nicely, but the edges shouldn’t be gaping open. Lay the filled shells neatly in rows until the pan is full; continue with the next pan. Don’t worry about having enough filling for every single shell in the box; some will inevitably be broken and you’ll have leftovers anyway. See note below.*
  • Carefully pour a thick line of marinara sauce over each row of shells. Cover with foil. If you’re serving for dinner, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook for 40 minutes; then raise the temperature to 450, remove the foil, sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella cheese, and cook for another 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and gooey.
  • If you are freezing, simply pop the foil-covered pan into the freezer. It’s easiest to thaw the shells in the fridge before you cook them (I just take them out the night before). If you must cook from frozen, cook at 375 for at least an hour and fifteen minutes or until completely heated through, then follow the same finishing steps as above.

*On leftover shells: There will always be leftover shells. Make peace with it. There’s never enough gooey filling in life, is there? However, just pop any leftover shells into a storage container and stick them in the fridge – you can reheat them the next day by putting them in boiling water for a few minutes, and they make a great lunch as buttered noodles!

leftover shells