Classic stuffed shells is a delicious comfort food recipe that everyone loves. Tender cooked pasta shells stuffed with a delectable cheese mixture and then cooked in a savory tomato sauce.
Add more cheese on top and it’s a really rich and gooey dinner that, when finished, looks like a deep-dish casserole. This dinner recipe is sure to be one of your favorites!
However, just don’t think of this meal as a Sunday dinner family meal. This dish is a great meal to gift to others who have just had a newborn baby or to a family in a time of need.
The shells can be prepare ahead of time and even frozen for a quick and easy meal whenever they need one. Once cooked, the stuffed shells will still have that creamy and comforting filling that will satisfy those who gathering around that dinner table as well.
Tips For Making This Dish Easier
However, many people may be intimidated by the steps to making this dish. However there a few key steps that you can take to make the process easier.
First, the key is to make sure that the jumbo shells are not over cooked. The pasta needs to be cooked 2-3 minutes short of al dente consistency. That way the shells will be firm enough to hold the cheese filling without tearing or falling apart.
Second, use a pastry bag to stuff the shells with the filling. It makes things a whole lot simpler and the entire procedure a lot faster.
However, don’t worry if you don’t have one of those fancy pastry bags. You can make your own bag using a large resealable plastic bag.
Simply fill the bag and cut a one inch hole at one corner of the bag. Then move the cheese mixture to the hole and begin to pipe the filling inside the shells. Although you can use two spoons to fill them as well, it just takes a little more time.
Stuffed shells are easy to prepare ahead of time and make a terrific freezer dinner to enjoy later as well. Serve with a tossed salad and garlic bread for a complete supper!
Recipe for Classic Stuffed Shells
Don’t be deceived by the fact that this appears to be a more upscale Sunday supper. It couldn’t be simpler, and the ingredient list is very straightforward as well:
- Jumbo pasta shells
- Ricotta cheese
- Shredded Italian cheese blend
- Dried Italian seasoning
- Salt and ground black pepper
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Marinara sauce
- Fresh chopped parsley
*Specific measurements and complete recipe instructions are located in a printable recipe card at the bottom of this article. However, be sure to continue to read the tips and tricks to making this recipe below.
Cook the pasta shells per the directions for al dente consistency, minus 2 minutes. You want the shells to be slightly tender but still firm. They will finish cooking and become nice and soft in the oven.
When the pasta is finished cooking, drain and then set aside so that they can cool down enough so that they can be handled. While the pasta is cooling preheat the oven and coat a 9″x13″ baking pan with cooking spray, set aside.
Spread 1 1/2 cups of the marinara sauce in the bottom of the pan. Spread so that the bottom of the pan is evenly coated.
Prepare the Filling
In a medium bowl, place the ricotta cheese, 1 1/2 cups of Italian cheese blend, Italian seasoning, egg, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese in a bowl. Mix until well combined.
Place the filling in a pastry bag or large resealable plastic bag. Or you could keep the filling in a bowl and use two spoons to fill the classic stuffed shells.
When the filling has been prepared and the shells have cooled enough to be handled, fill each pasta shell with the cheese mixture. Then place, open side up, in the prepared baking dish. Repeat until all the shells have been filled.
Spoon the remaining marinara sauce over the stuffed shells. Then sprinkle the other 1 1/2 cups of the shredded Italian cheese blend over the top of the sauce.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for twenty minutes. Uncover the baking dish, then bake for an additional 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted, bubbly, and starting to turn light brown.
Garnish with chopped parsley and serve warm.
Freezing and Reheating Instructions
One of the best dinners to freeze for later enjoyment are these Classic Stuffed Shells! They freeze nicely and bake up perfectly straight from the freezer!
To freeze the shells, follow the recipe instructions using a large disposable pan. Then, before freezing, cover it with plastic wrap. Then cover it tightly in heavy-duty foil and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
When you are ready to bake, remove the pan from the freezer and remove the plastic wrap. Then replace the foil on top and place it in a preheated oven set at 375°F.
Let the frozen shells cook for an hour, or until warm and bubbling. To brown the top, get rid of the foil or broil it for the last five minutes.
Want to save time on the day you are going to bake these classic stuffed shells? Make them a day or two in advance and cover and refrigerate. Then bring them to near room temperature and pop the pan in your oven and bake according to the recipe instructions.
Possible Ingredient Variations
Stuffed shells are a classic Italian dish with a delicious cheese filling. However you can make it your own by adding a variety of ingredients and/or toppings.
- Protein: Add 8 ounces cooked chopped ground beef, ground turkey, or Italian sausage to the cheese mixture. You could also add chopped cooked chicken as well.
- Vegetables: Add one cup of mushrooms, spinach, red bell peppers, onions, kale, broccoli, or zucchini to your cheese filling. Please make sure the veggies are finely chopped and cooked before adding them into the mix.
- Sauce: Substitute a creamy Alfredo sauce or a robust bolognese-style meat sauce for the marinara sauce.
- Cheese: You can swap other kinds of cheese, like cream cheese, provolone, small curd cottage cheese, fontina, Romano, or asiago.
Tips for Classic Stuffed Shells
- Boil the shells only until they are 2 minutes short of al dente. If you start stuffing them after overcooking, they’ll break apart.
- Fill the shells with piping or a large resealable bag with a corner cut-off. It’ll go much faster and be less messy!
- Pick ingredients that you enjoy. If Ricotta isn’t your thing, consider cottage or cream cheese instead!
- Choose a jar of marinara sauce with such a good flavor and easy ingredients, or make your own Homemade Marinara sauce if you prefer.
- Make a second batch by doubling the recipe to freeze for later enjoyment.
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- 24 jumbo pasta shells
- 15 ounces ricotta cheese
- 3 cups shredded Italian blend cheese, divided
- 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 3 cups marinara sauce, divided use
- 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
- Cook the pasta shells according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Coat a 9"x13" baking pan with cooking spray, set aside.
- Spread 1 1/2 cups of the marinara sauce in the bottom of the pan. Spread so that it is evenly coatedIn a medium bowl.
- Place the ricotta cheese, 1 1/2 cups of Italian blend cheese, Italian seasoning, egg, salt, pepper and parmesan cheese in a bowl. Stir to combine.
- Fill each pasta shell with the cheese mixture and place, open side up, in the baking dish. Spoon the remaining marinara sauce over the shells. Sprinkle the other 1 1/2 cups of cheese over the top of the sauce.
- Cover the dish with foil. Bake for 20 minutes. Uncover the baking dish then bake for an additional 10 minutes or until cheese is melted, bubbly and starting to turn light brown in color.
- Garnish with parsley, then serve warm.