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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.
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 and Substitutions
- 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
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.