These Crazy Good Classic Stuffed Shells are creamy, gooey, carb-y comfort food at it’s best! This family loved recipe features perfectly cooked shells, flavorful tomato sauce, and the most delicious ricotta filling! Sure to become one of your favorite pasta dishes!
Stuffed Shells Recipe
Another day, another baked pasta recipe!
And today we’re making a total Italian classic: stuffed shells! I actually polled you guys over on Instagram last week asking if you’d rather see baked ziti or stuffed pasta shells here on the blog, and the vote was 50/50. So obviously I had to make both! It’s a tough job… but someone’s gotta do it 😉
So without further ado, let’s dive into these gloriously cheesy stuffed shells!!! Actually, you might want to bust out your baking dish and preheat the oven first… because I have a feeling you’re making these for dinner tonight!
What the heck are stuffed shells?
Stuffed shells is essentially a super cheesy baked pasta dish, quite similar to lasagna or baked ziti. And it’s perfect for those nights you’re craving Italian-style comfort food!
There are tons of variations on this recipe floating around the world – and internet. I have Spicy Stuffed Shells Fra Diavolo and Caprese Stuffed Shells recipes here on the blog. And a lot of recipe will incorporate ingredients such as ground beef, Italian sausage, or even frozen spinach into the sauce!
Make the Sauce…
But for this recipe, we’re keeping things classic! But don’t let the word classic fool you into thinking that means plain or boring! Because it most certainly does not. This recipe features an incredibly delicious homemade marinara sauce made with onion, olive oil, garlic, crushed tomatoes, and plenty of fresh basil. And the cheese filling features creamy ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, and mozzarella cheese. Plus some finely chopped herbs and spices like salt and pepper.
Don’t Overcook the Pasta Shells!
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT over cook your pasta shells. In fact, I want you to undercook them! Boil them in a large pot of salt water for exactly 5 minutes, then drain them well and gently pat them dry. The shells will still be relatively hard, but just soft enough for you to stuff them. This is good, because they will continue to cook in the oven. And they’ll emerge perfectly cooked once they’ve finished baking! Trust me here… no one want a soggy stuffed shell!
How to Assemble:
- Pour 1 and 1/2 cups of sauce on the bottom of your baking dish.
- Stuff each shell with a heaping tablespoon or two of the cheese filling and nestle the shells in the sauce as close together as possible.
- Pour on the remaining tomato sauce. Then sprinkle on the mozzarella cheese.
- Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling! Serve warm!
I like to sprinkle my shells with fresh chopped parsley and a little parmesan, but this is totally optional!
Can I make this ahead of time?
Heavens yes! You can fully assemble these stuffed shells and pop it in the fridge for up to 24 hours before baking! You could also pop it in the freezer for up to 2 months. That said, if you plan on doing either of the make ahead options I mentioned, I would only boil your noodles for 3 minutes. This just ensures your noodles won’t get too soft as they sit in the sauce.
More Pasta Recipes:
- Super Cheesy Kale and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Bake
- Baked Rigatoni with Beef
- Pasta Puttanesca
- Baked Rigatoni Fra Diavolo with Sausage and Zucchini
- Easy Pasta Fagioli Soup
Classic Stuffed Shells
For the Sauce:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (tiny pinch!)
- 1/3 cup red wine (optional)
- 2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, add more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, add more to taste
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
For the Cheese Filling:
- 15 ounces ricotta cheese
- 1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
- 4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 Tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
- 2 Tablespoons basil, finely chopped
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the Shells:
- (1) 12 ounce box jumbo shells pasta
- 4 ounces mozzarella cheese. shredded
- 4 ounces fontina cheese, cubed (mozzarella can be used instead)
- 2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped, for garnish
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)
For the Sauce:
- Warm the oil a large saucepan over medium heat. Add in the onion and cook until softened, about 6 to 8 minutes.
- Add in the garlic and crushed chili flakes and cook for another minute, or until fragrant.
- Stir in the wine, if using, and cook for 2 minutes. Then add in the crushed tomatoes, salt, and pepper, stir well to combine.
- Bring sauce to a boil, then reduce to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes.
- Stir in the sugar and basil and cook for another 15 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
- Remove from heat allow to slightly cool before using it in the baked ziti. Sauce can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored in the fridge until needed.
For the Cheese Filling:
- In a large bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, parsley, basil, egg, eggs, salt and pepper. Stir together until just smooth. Set aside until needed.
For the Shells:
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, then stir in the pasta shells. Set a timer and cook for exactly 4 minutes. Drain and quickly run under cold water to stop the cooking process. Pat the shells dry and set aside.
Assembly and Baking:
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (F).
- Pour 1 and 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce onto the bottom of a 9X13-inch casserole dish. Set aside.
- Stuff each shell with a heaping tablespoon of the cheese filling, then place it in the baking dish. Nestle the shells as close together as possible. Repeat with all shells until you run out of cheese filling.
- Top shells with remaining pasta sauce, then sprinkle with both cheeses.
- Bake the shells for 35 minutes, or until the cheese is golden and bubbling.
- Let rest for 5 minutes before serving. Then sprinkle with parsley and parmesan and serve!
My husband and I made these last night (we could not find pasta shells so we used manicotti instead), and it turned out SO CRAZY good, just like the title says. Highly recommend this recipe. We will definitely be making this again. Thank you, Ashley!