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Published April 13, 2022. This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
These amazing stuffed shells recipe is baked in a classic tomato and white sauce with delicious meat and ricotta cheese filling. I like to use a combination of Italian sausage and ground beef to make this a hearty meal to serve to friends and family.
If you love this pasta recipe as much as I do, then I highly recommend making my spaghetti carbonara or pasta primavera.
Stuffed shells are a classic Italian recipe consisting of cheese or meat-stuffed pre-cooked pasta shells that are baked with a red or white sauce until the cheese stuffing is hot and melty. This classic recipe is commonly served up for holidays in the United States, however, in Italy and Sicily, this is a traditional Sunday lunch or dinner.
My family makes and serves this up every single Easter for as long as I’ve been alive. It’s a dish I look forward to eating but does require processes similar to that of my lasagna Bolognese recipe.
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Red Sauce – Use a good Pomodoro sauce for this.
- White Sauce – I prefer to cut the tomato sauce with bechamel sauce to make it richer in flavor.
- Pasta – You will need some jumbo shell pasta for this.
- Cheese – I like to use a combination of whole milk ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese. You can also use pecorino Romano.
- Vegetables – Onions, garlic, and baby spinach will be needed for my recipe.
- Eggs – Large eggs will help bind together the filling.
- Herbs – Fresh basil and flat-leaf Italian parsley will help add flavor and color to this.
How to Make Stuffed Shells
These stuffed shells recipe is a little bit of a labor of love but my promise to you is that the result is delicious. Use these step-by-step instructions to make it:
- Make the Sauces: Prepare the Pomodoro sauce and bechamel sauce and set them aside.
- Brown the Vegetables: Sauté the onion and garlic until lightly browned
- Brown the Meat: Add the Italian sausage and ground beef and cook until browned and cooked throughout.
- Cook the Spinach: Add the chopped spinach into the pan and cook until wilted. Add everything to a plate and spread out slightly and chill in the refrigerator.
- Boil the Noodles: Boil the shell pasta until al dente and then chill immediately in cold ice water. Drain and then spread out on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper and set to the side.
- Make the Filling: Add the ricotta cheese to the bowl of chilled meat and vegetables along with eggs, parmesan cheese, mozzarella chunks, basil, salt, and pepper, and mix until combined.
- Stuff the Shells: stuff the shells with a spoon or using a piping bag and set them aside.
- Assemble: Pour some of the Pomodoro sauce and bechamel into a 13×9 baking dish and add the stuffed shells seam side up. Garnish with more sauces, parmesan, and chunks of mozzarella and bake at 425° for 25 to 30 minutes.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Make-Ahead: This recipe is meant to be eaten as soon as it’s done cooking. You can however keep it warm and covered in the oven at 200° for up to 30 minutes before cooking. In addition, if you want to prepare everything, you can assemble everything if it’s cold and chilled and then refrigerate covered 1 day before baking and serving. Add 10 minutes to your baking time since everything will be cold going into the oven.
How to Store: Cover and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. This will freeze covered for up to 3 months. You can freeze them in the sauces or separate them.
How to Reheat: Add the number of stuffed shells with sauce to a saucepan and cover with foil and heat at 350° in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until hot.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are stuffed pasta shells called?
- Conchiglie rigate.
What is the difference between Manicotti and Stuffed Shells?
- Manicotti are long tube-like pasta that is stuffed up with meat and cheese. Stuffed shells use conchiglie pasta which is shell-shaped and can also be stuffed with meat and cheese.
Do you put eggs in stuffed shells?
- Yes, you will use some eggs in the stuffing to help hold it together.
chef notes + tips
- You can absolutely keep this recipe vegetarian by using all cheese and no meat. If doing so, add 1 more cup of cubed fresh mozzarella cheese to this recipe.
- It is ok to have leftover shell pasta as some of them will tear in the cooking and cooling process. Feel free to discard or keep the leftovers after stuffing.
- I had 8 shells that did not fit into the casserole dish so I baked them in a small separate dish.
More Pasta Recipes
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The Best Stuffed Shells Recipe
- 12 ounce box of jumbo conchiglie rigate
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 peeled small diced yellow onion
- 2 finely minced cloves of garlic
- 8 ounces loose Italian sausage
- 8 ounces ground beef 85/15
- 5 ounces roughly chopped baby spinach
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 1 pound small diced fresh mozzarella
- 16 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1 ½ cups grated parmesan cheese
- 1 large egg
- 1/3 pomodoro sauce recipe
- 1 bechamel sauce recipe
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 425°.
- Boil the conchiglie pasta until al dente in a large pot of boiling salted water, which takes about 8-9 minutes while gently stirring. Remove the noodles from the water, chill in an ice bath and then spread out on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper and set to the side.
- Add the olive oil to a large rondeau pot over medium heat and cook the onions until lightly browned, which takes about 10 minutes. Next add in the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
- Add in the Italian sausage and ground beef and cook until lightly browned and cooked through. Make sure to cut it down into small pieces.
- Mix in the baby spinach just until wilted and then transfer the mixture to a large plate and slightly spread everything out and chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
- Once cool transfer to a large bowl along with the basil, ½ the amount of small diced mozzarella, ricotta, 1 cup of parmesan cheese, large egg, and salt and pepper, and mix until completely combined.
- Using a small spoon or a piping bag stuffed with the meat and cheese filling, stuff each shell until they are completely full. I was able to get 28 stuffed shells.
- Evenly pour the pomodoro sauce into the bottom of a 13×9 casserole dish until it is coated.
- Next, randomly bour ¾ of the bechamel sauce on top of the tomato sauce. See Video.
- Line up as many stuffed shells as possible over the sauces. You may need to cook some in a separate dish if they all do not fit.
- Sprinkle on remaining small diced mozzarella and ½ cup of grated parmesan all over the top and bake at 425° for 25-30 minutes or until browned on top.
- Garnish with optional chopped parsley or basil.
Super dish! I make my own tomato sauce in August, and all came out soooo nice.
The flavors are fabulous! Company worthy for sure!
The best ever! 😊
Made them for Christmas Eve. They were wonderful.
These stuffed shells are possibly the best Italian pasta dish I ever made!!! Amazing flavor!! But plan on making a tad of a mess in the kitchen!! All worth it. I made both the suggested sauces as well as homemade ricotta cheese. Delicious!! I made some extra for friends and actually wanted to keep it all!
Amazing, thank you for this recipe. I saw the shells in a store, wondered how to cook them, came home and found this recipe. Of course I went back 😀
Made last night for the first time – was fantastic. We like our food spicy so probably would go with a spicier Italian sausage next time. Also, if you love garlic, two cloves are not enough. Otherwise, simple to make and delicious.
This recipe is the best ever…..
It’s time consuming but we’ll worth the effort.
Made them twice already.
I will be making it again soon.
Thank you for sharing.
These were amazing and not difficult to make; and they freeze extremely well. This recipe is now one of my top 5 go to’s.
I have made these shells four times now- they are a family favorite. Recently I made them for vegetarian guests and they turned out so good! Followed the meat recipe but mix-creamed tofu and ricotta to fill the shells and it was a hit! I like them with meat but it was great to know they could be made vegetarian!
Most versatile instructive chef on the Internet!
I appreciate the kind words, thank you.
Made this for our Easter brunch. Delicious! Will definitely make again.
I took this recipe to a church potluck. It was yummy & amazing & it was enough to feed 16-18 people & nothing left over.
The Best Ever!!
The best recipe. Absolutely, delicious. Was a hit with my friends.
thanks for giving it a shot!!
I have made stuffed shells my entire marriage (37 years). This recipe elevated them to excellence!! Dicing the mozzarella rather than shredding & putting the meat in with the cheese was brilliant!
These are tasty!
Best stuffed shells ever!
This was the first recipe that I discovered from Billy… upon making these shells and the sauce, I wish I had made a triple batch. My family devoured them. I have made this recipe now at least once a month and have also altered it into a lasagna. To make it keep everything the same, but when it comes to cheese, use a Béchamel sauce with a mozzarella and Parmesan coat, then layer…divine! I HIGHLY recommend this recipe!
Another amazing recipe I have made. Both of the sauce recipes yielded way more sauce than you need for a recipe, so next time I make this, and I will make again soon, I will use the sauces in moderation and save some for another meal. Your sauces always taste fantastic. Thank you for this.
Wow, very delicious. It was worth the effort to make this, I know it will be easier the next time I make this! Thank you chef, bella!!
Oh My. Made these for Christmas yesterday and they were amazing. Don;t tell anyone, but I am having for breakfast this morning. 🙂
Made the stuffed shells today and they turned out fantastic. Everyone loved them. This one is a keeper. Love all your recipes.
Finally found time to make this a few days ago and I’m very glad I did. My wife and I both thought it was great. I should have re-watched the video before I started. I overlooked the chopping of the spinach, didn’t break the meat up quite enough, and my bechamel needed to be thinned. I did use a store brand red sauce that I like and it worked great in this dish. Thanks for the recipe!
Was very very good! First time ever to make this dish. Felt a little overwhelmed at first with all ingredients. But, next time will be a breeze. Your basic prep tips are great! I know you feel like you repeat a lot, but personally, newly retired here. Use to hate to cook, raised 4 kids, my hub and me worked full time, so cooking was a necessity. I am really enjoying it now! My fav thing to do!