These stuffed pasta shells are Italian-inspired comfort food made with perfectly cooked shells stuffed with 3 types of cheese, herbs, seasoning, some red pepper flakes for heat, and marinara sauce. They’re saucy, cheesy, and fun to make!
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Best Stuffed Shells Recipe
I don’t think I’ve met a pasta dish I didn’t love which is why these delicious stuffed shells are always a part of my list of family favorites.
What I love best about them is that you can stuff them with whatever you want and make a new version every time. I’ve even made Philly cheesesteak stuffed shells!
This version is more along the lines of a classic pasta dish, reminiscent of the flavors in a lasagna. Total comfort food, whether you’re serving dinner guests or making a quick and easy weeknight meal. Add a slice of garlic bread and a classic Italian Panzanella salad or caesar salad on the side of course.
- Jumbo pasta shells: Cook to al dente according to the jumbo shells package directions. Drain and rinse them under cold water until they’re cool. You don’t want them overcooked otherwise they’ll become mushy as they continue to cook in the oven.
- Marinara sauce: I have a homemade marinara sauce that I make and keep on hand for times like these! Nothing beats a homemade sauce, but when I don’t have any or when I’m short on time I’ll use a jar of store-bought marinara sauce. Either work great.
- Cheese: Ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, and Parmesan cheese come together to form the main component of the filling. Ricotta is mild and soft, mozzarella is melty and Parmesan is sharp and delivers an umami flavor.
- Large egg: Used to bind the filling so that it doesn’t run out of the stuffed pasta shells as it bakes.
- Seasoning: Fresh parsley, garlic powder, dried Italian seasoning, salt, red pepper flakes.
There are so many ways to stuff your shells. Each version is like a completely different meal!
- Spinach stuffed shells: Thaw and squeeze all the water out of a 10 oz package of frozen spinach. Add it to the cheese mixture. You can also use 2 cups of fresh chopped baby spinach. Add sautéd onion, roasted red peppers and/or mushrooms for even more flavor.
- Meat stuffed shells: Add cooked ground beef, ground turkey, ground chicken, shredded cooked chicken, or Italian sausage and mix it with the marinara sauce.
- Alfredo stuffed shells: Use this recipe but swap alfredo sauce for the Alfredo sauce.
- You can use cottage cheese in place of creamy ricotta cheese if you prefer.
- If you don’t want heat, omit the red pepper flakes.
- Use a meat sauce instead of Alfredo sauce if you have leftovers you want to use up.
- Swap the Parmesan for pecorino Romano, or asiago and the mozzarella for provolone.
- Add a little fresh basil or other fresh herbs as a garnish if you’d like.
How to Make Stuffed Shells
This recipe will come together in just a few simple steps. As long as you cook your pasta ahead of time, you’re set to have dinner on the table in no time!
Step 1: In a large bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, shredded mozzarella, ¾ cup of grated Parmesan, egg, parsley, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, salt, and red pepper flakes.
Don’t forget that half the marinara sauce will be to coat the bottom of the baking dish.
Step 2: Mix well until everything has combined.
Step 3: Spoon about 2 Tablespoons of the cheese filling into each cooked and cooled pasta shell. Arrange them in the prepared baking dish open side up in a single layer. Pour the remaining tomato sauce on top and then sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
Step 4: Cover the dish loosely with foil and bake for 25 minutes before removing the foil to broil for 2-3 minutes in the end. The cheese will be bubbly and golden brown when it’s done! Watch that it doesn’t burn.
Garnish with fresh basil leaves or minced parsley for serving!
- Use jumbo pasta shells at least 2″ x 1″ in diameter. You can also use manicotti noodles.
- Depending on the size of your shells you may need to use a bit less ricotta mixture.
- Adding plenty of salt (seriously, don’t be shy about it) to the pot of water will not only help it come to a boil faster but will add so much flavor to your pasta shells.
- If you can’t find the instructions for al denta on your large shells box, cook them for 1-2 minutes less than the package states.
- You can use a plastic bag or piping bag with corner snipped off to pipe the cheese mixture easily into each shell. This is especially helpful if you’ve chosen to use manicotti instead.
Keep leftover shells stored in an airtight container. Allow them to cool completely before covering them. They’ll stay fresh for up to 4 days in the refrigerator.
You can! Prepare and assemble them fully but don’t bake them. Use a disposable foil baking dish or any freezer-friendly baking dish. Once assembled, cover tightly with plastic wrap and then wrap in aluminum foil and keep frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
It couldn’t be easier to reheat these shells in the microwave.
Stuffed Pasta Shells
- 16 ounces jumbo pasta shells
- 24 ounces marinara sauce
- 15 ounces ricotta cheese
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese shredded and divided
- 1 cup parmesan cheese grated and divided
- 1 large egg
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley minced
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Preheat the oven to 350° F. Spray an 9×13” baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
- Spread half of the marinara sauce in the bottom of the dish.24 ounces marinara sauce
- In a large pot, bring water to a boil.
- Add the shells and cook for about 10 minutes or just until they are al dente according to the time on the package directions16 ounces jumbo pasta shells
- Pour the shells into a colander in the sink to drain them. Run cold water over them until they are cool.
- In a large bowl, add the ricotta cheese, 1 cup of shredded mozzarella, ¾ cup grated parmesan, egg, parsley, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, salt and red pepper flakes and mix until combined well.15 ounces ricotta cheese, 2 cups mozzarella cheese, 1 cup parmesan cheese, 1 large egg, 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, ½ teaspoon salt
- Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture into each shell, depending on the size of the shells. Place the filled shells open side up in the baking dish.
- Top the filled shells with the remaining marinara sauce and then sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheeses on top.24 ounces marinara sauce, 2 cups mozzarella cheese, 1 cup parmesan cheese
- Cover the baking dish loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes.
- Then remove the foil and turn the oven to broil and broil for 2-3 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown. (watch carefully so they don’t burn)
- Garnish with fresh basil leaves or minced parsley if desired.
● Spinach Stuffed Shells: Thaw a 10 ounce package of frozen chopped spinach. Squeeze all of the water out of it very well add it to the cheese mixture. Or you can also use 2 cups of fresh, chopped baby spinach
● Meat Stuffed Shells: Add cooked ground beef, ground turkey, ground chicken, shredded cooked chicken or Italian sausage. Simply mix it with the marinara sauce.
● Alfredo Stuffed Shells: Swap the marinara sauce for Alfredo sauce. Store any leftover stuffed shells in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. Use jumbo pasta shells at least 2″ x 1″ in diameter. You can also use manicotti noodles. Use homemade marinara sauce or store bought jarred marinara. High quality marinara if best. Swap the ricotta cheese for cottage cheese. Omit the red pepper flakes.
Nutritional facts are estimates and are provided as a courtesy to the reader. Please utilize your own brand nutritional values to double check against our estimates. Nutritional values are calculated via a third party. Changing ingredients, amounts or cooking technique will alter the estimated nutritional calculations.
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