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Spring Primavera Stuffed Shells

Riley Wofford
Cook Time:
1 hr
Prep Time:
1 hr

Chef notes

Baked pasta season never really ends in my book, especially when springtime rolls around. Fresh, flavorful vegetables are abundant at the farmers’ market every weekend, so who would I be to leave without at least one tote full? Some of my favorites are asparagus, peas, spinach and fresh garlic. If I’m not eating these vegetables simply sautéed or steamed, I like incorporating them into a cheesy filling for these stuffed shells.

This recipe is reminiscent of pasta primavera, a simple pasta dish that is loaded with vegetables and a creamy sauce. Primavera translates to “springtime”; while you could technically recreate this dish in the dead of winter with frozen vegetables, it is something truly special when you use peak season produce. All of the aforementioned spring vegetables are sautéed until tender, then mixed with fresh ricotta, Parmesan cheese, lemon zest and chopped basil for the filling.

You only need to par-boil the shells for a few minutes until they’re malleable enough to be filled.

The cream sauce is the final component of this dish. Start by making a basic roux with butter and flour, then whisk in lots of milk and heavy cream. Once it has thickened up a bit, stir in a few cups of Parmesan cheese to make the sauce extra creamy and cheesy. The shells bake in the smooth sauce until everything is bubbly and melted to perfection.

Technique Tip: These stuffed shells can be made a day in advance so they are ready to bake off for dinner the next night. Let them stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes, then pop them into the oven and proceed with the recipe. Add about 15 minutes to the baking time.

Swap Option: Any seasonal vegetables are welcome here. Sprouting broccoli, ramps and spring onions are all delicious substitutes. 


  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 12 ounces large pasta shells
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into ½-inch thick pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (10-ounce) bag frozen peas
  • 1 (5-ounce) bag fresh spinach
  • 1 pound ricotta cheese
  • cups finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves, plus more for serving
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • cups whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
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Preheat the oven to 425 F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with 2 tablespoons of salt. Add the pasta shells and cook for 6 minutes. Drain and let cool until no longer hot to the touch, about 15 minutes.


Return the pot to medium heat and swirl in the oil. Add the asparagus and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the peas and spinach. Cover and cook just until the spinach is wilted, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain to remove any excess water. Transfer the vegetables to a medium bowl and let cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.


Add the ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, lemon zest, basil and 1 teaspoon of salt and stir to combine.


Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring frequently, just until it smells fragrant, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk and cream and cook, whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 2 cups Parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon salt and nutmeg.


Drizzle a 9-by-13-inch deep-sided baking dish with oil. Pour the cream sauce into the bottom of the dish. Using a spoon, stuff the ricotta mixture into the pasta shells. Arrange the shells in an even layer in the baking dish and drizzle with more oil. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the sauce is bubbly and browned in places, 10 to 15 minutes more. Let cool for at least 15 minutes, then sprinkle with more basil before serving.