Topped with rich pasta sauce, and filled with three types of cheese and aromatics, these Stuffed Shells are a perfect make ahead meal for busy weeknights or entertaining guests.
Easy Ricotta Stuffed Shells Recipe
With tender pasta, lots of cheese, and a rich tomato-based pasta, it’s no surprise that these stuffed pasta shells are a classic comfort food. This recipe has been a family favorite for a while. It’s easy enough to make for a casual weeknight dinner, but also nice enough for a special occasion or dinner with friends.
The filling in these stuffed shells is made with ricotta cheese, mozzarella, and parmesan, so each bite is full of cheesy goodness. Add a few aromatics, seasonings, and a rich pasta sauce and you have a hearty dinner for everyone. Whether you want to prepare the shells the same day you’ll be serving or as a freezer meal for later, using a piping bag for the cheese mixture makes this dish really easy to assemble.
Stuffed Pasta Shells Ingredients
This classic dish is made with three types of cheese, your favorite pasta sauce, and just a few other ingredients.
(Scroll below to the printable recipe card for details and measurements.)
- Jumbo pasta shells – Make sure you buy jumbo shells, not little ones.
- Pasta sauce – The sauce is a key component in this dish, so choose a very good quality one with loads of flavor, whether it be homemade or store-bought. I highly recommend our homemade marinara sauce or spaghetti meat sauce – both are excellent.
- Ricotta cheese – A traditional filling ingredient in stuffed shells. Ricotta has a milky, sweet, and mellow flavor with a creamy texture.
- Shredded mozzarella – Delicate, mild, and melts wonderfully.
- Parmesan – Use freshly grated for optimal flavor.
- Garlic – For aromatics and flavor. Use fresh.
- Egg – Helps hold the filling together.
- Seasonings – Fresh parsley, dried Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes season the dish, in addition to the sauce.
From adding veggies to using a different sauce, there are many ways to switch up these ricotta stuffed shells.
- Add some spinach. Feel free to cook up 8 ounces of fresh spinach (then chop) and add to the filling, if desired.
- Switch up the sauce. If you’re a fan of alfredo sauce, you can also make a white version of these stuffed shells by swapping the red sauce for alfredo sauce. You can also use a hearty bolognese sauce as well.
- Add some protein. While this makes a great vegetarian dinner, you can also stir in some cooked chicken, ground beef, or ground sausage into the filling mixture.
- Mix up the cheeses. Ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella are a traditional cheese trio for the filling, but you can swap them out for other cheeses as well. Consider cottage cheese, provolone, or fontina.
- Stir in some veggies. While the above-mentioned spinach is the most common choice, you can also stir in other cooked, finely chopped veggies to the filling. Think about cooked mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, broccoli and zucchini.
How to Make Stuffed Shells
These stuffed pasta shells are easy to make. Here’s a summary:
(Scroll to the bottom for our easy printable recipe with the complete directions, and don’t miss the video below.)
- Prepare the pan. Coat a pan with nonstick spray. Spread half of the pasta sauce on the bottom.
- Cook the shells. Cook the pasta for 9 minutes in salted water. Drain and rinse. Spread on a baking sheet.
- Create the filling. Mix together the other ingredients, except for the remaining pasta sauce. Transfer to a pastry bag.
- Stuff the shells. Fill the shells with the mixture. Transfer to the baking dish, open-side up. Add the remaining sauce, coating the shells.
- Bake. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil then bake another 10 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.
Tips for Success
For the best stuffed pasta shells, keep the following in mind.
- Make extra shells. Most jumbo pasta shells come in a 12 ounce box with about 40 shells. You will only need about 30 for this recipe, but I always cook a few extra in case one or more tear, which seems inevitable when cooking shells or lasagna noodles.
- Don’t overcook the shells. The shells should boil for just 9 minutes and remain al dente or even a little less cooked because they will continue to cook in the oven. Overcooking them will lead to mushy shells that don’t hold up the filling.
- Rinse the shells with cold water. Immediately after you drain the shells, rinse them with cold water to prevent them from cooking further.
- Grate your own cheese. For both the parmesan and mozzarella, I recommend shredding the cheese yourself if at all possible for the absolute best flavor.
What goes with stuffed shells? The most traditional sides are garlic bread or dinner rolls and a side salad. Caesar salad is also a delicious option. If you want to pair it with a vegetable, it goes great with oven roasted carrots.
How to Store & Reheat Leftovers
- Assemble ahead. This recipe for stuffed jumbo shells can be assembled up to 8 hours before you plan to bake it. Cover the dish tightly and store it in the fridge until then. Since the pasta and filling will be cold, you might need to tack on an additional 10 minutes to the bake time.
- How long are stuffed shells good for? Leftovers should either be covered tightly with foil or transferred to an airtight container. They will last for 3 or 4 days in the fridge.
- How to reheat leftovers. Leftovers can be reheated in the oven or the microwave. If reheating in the oven, cover the pan with foil so the sauce doesn’t dry out or the top burn.
- Can I freeze stuffed shells? Yes! Ricotta stuffed shells make a great freezer meal. Prepare them as usual, then cover the pan with plastic wrap and again in foil and place it in the freezer instead of baking them. You can also freeze smaller portions if you cook for just one or two instead of a larger family. You can bake the stuffed jumbo shells straight from the freezer, you’ll need to add about 30 minutes to the baking time.
More Easy Pasta Recipes:
- Lasagna Soup
- Penne Alla Vodka
- Chicken Pot Pie Noodles
- Baked Feta Pasta
- Shrimp Pesto Pasta
- Chicken Tetrazzini
- Chicken Alfredo
- 32 ounces pasta sauce (best quality of your choice – see note)
- 9 ounces uncooked jumbo pasta shells (about 30 shells)
- 2 cups ricotta cheese
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan , plus more for garnish
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- 2 cloves garlic , finely minced
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- pinch of cracked red pepper flakes
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 10×14 baking dish with nonstick spray and spread half of the pasta sauce on the bottom. Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook for 9 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to prevent further cooking. Spread them out on a baking sheet.
- In a large mixing bowl, place the ricotta cheese, mozzarella, parmesan, parsley, minced garlic, egg, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and cracked red pepper flakes; mix until incorporated. Transfer to a large pastry bag (or resealable plastic bag with a corned cut off.) Pipe mixture evenly into the shells.
- Arrange the stuffed shells side by side, open-side up, on top of the sauce in the baking dish. Top with remaining 2 cups sauce, spreading it so all the shells are coated.
- Cover the dish with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, until heated through and the sauce is bubbly. Remove foil and bake another 10 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and set sit for 10 minutes.
- Serve on individual plates with a little sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley and freshly grated Parmesan.