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Slow Cooker Stuffed Shells with Sausage and Spinach

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Slow Cooker Stuffed Shells with Sausage and Spinach is an easy crockpot meal. Jumbo shells filled with a cheesy spinach mixture and then topped with a browned sausage (or ground beef!) sauce is an easy, comforting family favorite.

stuffed shell being lifted from a slow cooker.

Slow Cooker Stuffed Shells

I love pasta. Baked mostaccioli, vodka rigatoni, rosa chicken pasta bake…I love all varieties. But it wasn’t until fairly recently that I started making pasta in the slow cooker.

I started with slow cooker lasagna, then I did chicken parmesan with tortellini.

And now…stuffed shells. One of my favorites, slow cooked for hours and ready just in time for dinner.

Filled with a cheesy, spinach mixture and topped with a meat sauce, this pasta is a meal in itself. Here, browned sausage is used but you can also sub in ground beef or turkey, or skip the meat altogether and make a vegetarian version.

Why you’ll love slow cooker stuffed shells with sausage & spinach

  • Easy to find ingredients – you need just 7 ingredients to make this comfort food.
  • Feeds a crowd – as written, it easily feeds seven adults.
  • Kid friendly – even picky eaters should enjoy this one!
two cheesy stuffed pasta shells on a white plate.

Equipment needed to make stuffed shells

  • Slow Cooker – I use my 6 quart slow cooker. I’ve had this one for years and highly recommend it.
  • Colander – I didn’t think I needed a colander with a handle, until my husband bought me one.
  • Large skillet – Though you can add raw sausage/beef to the slow cooker, I highly recommend browning it on the stovetop first. Both for texture and flavor, but also it eliminates greasiness.

Ingredients for Stuffed Shells with Sausage and Spinach

Below is a list of ingredients you’ll need to help you prep. Scroll all the way down for the full recipe card.

Ricotta Cheese – I like to use full fat ricotta cheese. Cottage cheese is an easy substitute if you prefer.
Spinach – Frozen spinach that has been heated and drained. Alternatively, you can saute fresh baby spinach so it is wilted and cooked down.
Mozzarella Cheese – Shredded mozzarella cheese.
Egg – An egg will help bind the filling.
Jumbo Shells – Use jumbo shells to stuff with the cheese mixture. You will parboil the noodles so they’re just soft in order to stuff them. They will finish cooking in the slow cooker.
Sausage – One pound of ground sausage (Italian works well) or you can use ground beef (I recommend sirloin with a low fat content).
Sauce – You’ll need 24 ounces of your favorite pasta sauce. I like Trader Joe’s or Rao’s.

labeled ingredients laid out to make stuffed shells.

How to make slow cooker stuffed shells

STEP ONE: First, cook your noodles in a large pot of salted boiling water, just until soft. Drain and set aside.

STEP TWO: While the water is boiling, brown the sausage (or beef) in a large skillet and drain off any fat. Then, in a large bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, drained spinach, 1.5 cups of the shredded mozzarella cheese, and an egg. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

STEP THREE: Next, evenly spoon the cheese mixture amongst the partially cooked noodles.

STEP FOUR: Finally, spread a small amount of sauce into the bottom of the slow cooker and place the filled shells on top. You can stack them as necessary. Pour the browned, drained sausage over the top of the shells and then pour the remaining sauce over the entire thing, fully coating.

STEP FIVE: Cover and cook on LOW for 3-4 hours. In the last approximately 30 minutes of cook time, sprinkle the remaining half cup of cheese evenly over the top, replace the cover, and wait for it to melt.

collage of 4 photos showing the process of making stuffed shells in a slow cooker.

What to serve with stuffed shells

Stuffed shells are very filling on their own but I like to pair them with a simple side salad, roasted green beans, or roasted zucchini. It also pairs well with garlic knots or easy one hour dinner rolls.

Possible Substitutions/Additions

  • Don’t like sausage? Use ground beef, ground turkey, or ground chicken.
  • Want a meatless option? These stuffed shells are just as good when prepared vegetarian.
  • Don’t have ricotta cheese? Cottage cheese can be used in its place.
  • Use your favorite sauce – one full of garlic or veggies works well.
  • Want to spice it up? Use a spicy sausage or add red pepper flakes to the sauce.

How to reheat and store sausage and spinach stuffed shells

How to store leftovers

Leftovers should be stored, covered, in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Can I freeze stuffed shells?

Yes! Stuffed shells freeze really well. You have a couple options:

  • Freezing uncooked – you can prepare as directed, place in a freezer safe pan, cover with foil, and freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, you can thaw them in the fridge overnight or cook straight from the freezer but add an additional hour to the cook time.
  • Freezing cooked – fully cooked shells can also be frozen in a freezer safe container for up to 3 months. Heat either in the oven at 350° or put in the slow cooker to heat through.
a wooden spoon scooping into a crockpot of cheesy pasta.

Slow Cooker Stuffed Shells FAQs

Why do stuffed shells get watery?

Sometimes ricotta can be too wet, which leads to a watery filling. To prevent this, if you notice your ricotta being water straight out of the container, you can spread the ricotta onto clean paper towels and pressing additional paper towels on top to absorb excess moisture.

I personally haven’t had this be an issue (try to pick a high quality ricotta), but it does happen.

What does stuffed shells go good with?

I like to pair stuffed shells with a simple salad, a vegetable (try roasted carrots!) and usually a bread, like garlic knots, or just pick up a quick baguette from the market.

Why do you put egg in ricotta cheese?

Adding an egg to the ricotta cheese mixture helps to bind the cheese so it isn’t runny.

How many stuffed shells is a serving?

I allow for 2-3 stuffed shells per adult. Kids or smaller appetites might be fine with 1-2, while adults with bigger appetites might want 4+.

Can I use no boil noodles?

You could use no boil noodles (I even use uncooked, regular noodles in my lasagna), but for these shells, I prefer to boil them just a bit first.

Need more pasta recipes? Try these:

Pizza Pasta Bake
Veggie Lasagna Rollups
Chicken Spinach & Artichoke Pasta Skillet
Chicken Spinach & Ricotta Stuffed Shells

Click here for my entire collection of pasta recipes.

a cheesy, saucy, stuffed shell being lifted from the slow cooker.

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stuffed shell being lifted from a slow cooker.

Slow Cooker Stuffed Shells with Sausage and Spinach

Melissa Williams
Slow Cooker Stuffed Shells with Sausage and Spinach is an easy crockpot meal. Jumbo shells filled with a cheesy spinach mixture and then topped with a browned sausage (or ground beef!) sauce is an easy, comforting family favorite.
4.80 from 5 votes
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 4 hrs
Total Time 4 hrs 20 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, Italian
Servings 6 servings
Calories 873 kcal

Equipment

Ingredients
  

  • 3 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1 ½ cups frozen spinach cooked and drained
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese divided
  • 1 large egg
  • 12 ounces jumbo pasta shells
  • 1 pound ground sausage browned and drained
  • 24 ounces pasta sauce
  • Parmesan cheese and parsley for topping

Instructions
 

  • In a large pot of salted boiling water, boil the pasta until just soft. The noodles need to be undercooked as they will continue to cook in the slow cooker. Drain and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, spinach, 1 ½ cups mozzarella cheese and egg. Stir to combine well and season with salt & pepper, to taste.
  • Spoon the ricotta mixture evenly into the parboiled shells.
  • Spread a bit of sauce into the bottom of the 6 quart slow cooker.
  • Place the stuffed shells into the slow cooker. You can stack them to fit.
  • Pour the browned, drained sausage all over the shells.
  • Next, pour the remaining sauce all over the top, covering each shell.
  • Cover and cook on LOW for 3-4 hours until bubbly.
  • In the last 30 minutes or so of cooking, add the remaining shredded cheese to the top of the shells, replace lid, and let melt.
  • Top with parmesan and parsley and serve!

Notes

Store leftovers in the fridge, covered, for up to 3 days.

Nutrition

Serving: 1gCalories: 873kcalCarbohydrates: 55gProtein: 49gFat: 51gSaturated Fat: 25gPolyunsaturated Fat: 4gMonounsaturated Fat: 18gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 192mgSodium: 1574mgPotassium: 1007mgFiber: 5gSugar: 8gVitamin A: 6092IUVitamin C: 11mgCalcium: 626mgIron: 4mg

Nutritional information is an estimate and provided to you as a courtesy. You should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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  1. Cindy says

    Love your recipes. Simplicity and ease is very helpful.

    In your method of freezing this dish and time to remove from freezer. Do you mean to say that in fridge?

    • Melissa Williams says

      Yes! Fixed. Thanks for catching me 🙂

  2. Deborah P says

    5 stars
    Delicious! I made this today for my Dad who doesn’t like anything green and he practically licked his plate. I love it too. I’ll be making this again.

  3. Ashley says

    I can’t do tomato sauce due to it being too acidic for my stomach, can you omit it and do all the other ingredients or would it be dry? And if it’ll be dry, what would be a good substitute?

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