Stuffed Shells with Meat

These Stuffed Shells are saucy, cheesy, meaty comfort food at its best, perfect for an easy, make ahead dinner or freezer meal!

These Meat Stuffed Shells are a comfort food classic!  They’re richly satisfying, hearty yet elegant and astonishingly quick and easy to make!  Jumbo pasta shells are stuffed with a creamy, flavorful luxe combination of Italian sausage, ricotta (with my secret silky ingredient!) buttery mozzarella, nutty Parmesan and a healthy dose of garlic and herbs, then baked in a bath of marinara sauce (store-bought is a great shortcut!) and melty cheese.  Each and every bite is hot, meaty, cheesy, saucy perfection – no dry shells in this recipe! You’ll also love that this recipe can easily be made up to a day in advance and refrigerated until ready to bake and it freezes beautifully. While my favorite Stuffed Shells are loaded with Italian sausage, I’ve also included recipe variations for Ricotta Stuffed Shells, Spinach Stuffed Shells, Chicken Stuffed Shells, etc. Serve your Stuffed Pasta Shells with Caesar Salad and Garlic Bread or Breadsticks for a cozy dinner everyone will love.

There are a few baked Italian pasta dishes that everyone should have a superb recipe for – namely Stuffed Shells – check! And these other favorites:  Lasagna, White Chicken Lasagna, Baked Ziti, Baked Penne, Manicotti, Tortellini Al Forno and Baked Macaroni and Cheese.

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HOW TO MAKE stuffed shells recipe VIDEO

top view of stuffed shells topped with marinara and mozzarella

why this stuffed shells recipe works

Back in the day, before Carlsbad Cravings, I made stuffed pasta shells – I did not like them – for several reasons (I’ll detail below).  Needless to say, this recipe tackles all the common pitfalls of Stuffed Shells with perfected seasonings, texture, proportions, and ingredients.   Here’s why this recipe works:

It has meat – no mouthfuls of plain ricotta! I find Ricotta Stuffed Shells too one note creamy (I never thought that was a thing before!) without any textural interest – they just taste like eating a mouthful of mush with a tagline of a thin shell.  Not this recipe!   Meat is added to both the ricotta and the sauce for juicy textural interest in every bite.  The recipe reminds me of lasagna in that way, but quicker because you don’t have to make Bolognese from scratch!

The ricotta is delightfully creamy – no grainy ricotta! Instead of using all ricotta in the filling, which sometimes turns gritty or grainy when baked, we combine the ricotta with sour cream and heaps of mozzarella cheese for the creamiest, silkiest, smooth ricotta you ever did taste.

It has plenty of sauce – no dry shells here!  The trouble with many Stuffed Shell recipes is they become dry when baked because the sauce doesn’t coat the shells.  Additionally, I find myself rationing the sauce because there is never enough.  This Stuffed Shell recipe is generous with the sauce so the pasta shells are always tender and you can enjoy as much crave-worthy sauce as you like in every bite.

It’s easy to make – easier than lasagna!   This recipe takes advantage of store-bought marinara and infuses it with Italian sausage, for yummy, saucy cheesiness that tastes like you spent hours making it.  You’ll also love my easy hack for filling the shells in minutes.

It’s always a crowd pleaser – because CARBS, CHEESE, MEAT and SAUCE.  Not everyone likes Ricotta stuffed Shells (see above), but everyone loves hot, cheesy, meaty, saucy, gooey goodness.  These Meat Stuffed Shells is the kind of meal that even the pickiest eater loves so you can serve it with confidence to any audience.  This recipe also happens to be hearty yet elegant, so it’s a winner for any occasion.

It’s hearty enough for a crowd – not just a small skillet.  This Stuffed Shells recipe make a hearty casserole so everyone can enjoy seconds or you can serve it up for dinner parties, company or leftovers.  Many recipes don’t use the full box of shells simply so they can look beautiful spiraling in a skillet. But I find shortchanging this recipe a shame because it’s SO GOOD and you’re already putting the work in – plus, it makes fabulous leftovers.  

It can be assembled ahead of time – no last-minute dinner stress. I love assembling these Stuffed Pasta Shells the night before or morning of and refrigerating until dinner time. Not only do the flavors intensify, but dinnertime is a breeze with just the push of the bake button. 

It’s freezer friendly – for leftovers or an extra batch.  These Stuffed Shells with Meat freezes well so you can freeze it for busy days ahead, to help out a new mom, sick family or someone recovering from surgery.  You can also double the batch and eat one casserole for dinner and freeze one for later.

This Stuffed Shells recipe can be made with any type of filling!  You can swap the meat for any protein, eliminate it altogether and add whatever veggies you like. You can even swap the marinara sauce for Alfredo if you’d like.  All variations included!

a baking dish recipe of stuffed shells with meat in a baking dish

INGREDIENTS for stuffed pasta shells

These immensely comforting Stuffed Pasta Shells are made with easy to find, everyday ingredients that combine into 5-star restaurant spectacular! Best of all, almost all the ingredients are pantry friendly or freezer friendly so you can make this recipe any time. Let’s take a closer look at what you’ll need (measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of the post):

  • Shells:  You will need one 12-ounce package of JUMBO pasta shells, inspired by conch sea shells.  Jumbo pasta shells are just the right size and shape for easy stuffing while also securing our yummy filling inside.  If your grocery store doesn’t carry them, you can order them on Amazon HERE.
  • Marinara:  You are welcome to use store-bought marinara or homemade (my recipe is fabulous). Regardless, you will need 6 cups which is two 24-ounce jars or double my marinara recipe.  For store-bought, I highly recommend the brand Rao’s.  It is by far the best store-bought marinara I’ve come across.  They are increasingly easier to find, so if your grocery store doesn’t carry them, check Costco, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, or Amazon.
  • Italian sausage:  Adds juicy textural interest and robust flavor to both the filling and the sauce AKA makes this recipe!  I highly suggest using Italian sausage and not just ground beef because you get meat + flavor.  Italian sausage is pre-seasoned with Italian seasonings, including fennel.  Fennel is crucial for authentic Italian flavor so if you skip the Italian sausage, make sure you add some fennel to your filling. You can also substitute with ground chicken or turkey (see recipe variations).
  • Ricotta cheese:  An Italian whey cheese that we’ll combine with sour cream for extra luxurious filling.  Please use whole milk ricotta because it’s creamier and melts better; skim ricotta can become runny and lack flavor.  I have heard that the ricotta we buy in our American grocery stores tastes nothing like ricotta you purchase at an Italian market.  If you have the chance to purchase either brands Sierra or Polly-O ricotta cheese at a specialty market, use that!
  • Sour cream:  Is my secret ingredient that prevents the ricotta from drying out, transforming it from problematic and unappetizingly grainy into delightfully smooth and creamy.  I also love the slightly tanginess it adds to lighten the rich ricotta.  Please use full fat sour cream for the best texture and flavor.
  • Mozzarella:  Is used both to top the shells and in the filling. Its milky, buttery richness cuts through the tangy sauce and it beautifully melts into the ricotta creating an extra creamy, dreamy, buttery filling.  Please use only freshly shredded mozzarella for superior melting ability and flavor.
  • Parmesan:  Is used in both the ricotta filling and the crowning top layer. It infuses the Stuffed Shells with its alluring salty, nutty flavor. Please use only freshly grated Parmesan cheese, grated on the finest holes so it looks like powder. This fine cheese will distribute more evenly and melt better. 
  • Egg: One egg acts as a binding agent and prevents the filling from being runny; but don’t worry, you can’t taste the egg, just the luxurious texture.
  • Herbs: Basil, parsley and oregano season our filling. You can use fresh or dried, or a combination.
  • Spices: Nutmeg is a secret authentic ingredient to ricotta filling with its slightly nutty, sweet, woody flavors. Garlic and pepper also make the flavors sing.
top view of a plate of stuffed shells with meat showing how saucy they are

HOW TO MAKE stuffed shells

Learn how to make Stuffed Shells with these step-by-step photos and/or you can watch the recipe video at the top of the post or in the notes of the recipe card. You’re going to love how quickly this recipe comes together (full recipe measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of the post):

  • Step 1:  Cook shells:  Boil shells in salted water for 2 minutes shy of al dente then immediately strain and rinse with cool water so they don’t continue to cook.
  • Step 2:  Cook sausage:  Brown sausage and onion, then add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Pat off excess grease if you’d like. 
showing how to make stuffed shells recipe by cooking meat in a skillet
  • Step 3:  Add sauce to the bottom of the dish.  Remove 1 ½ cups sausage/onions (half) to use in the filling and add the rest to a 9×13 baking dish.  Pour half of the marinara sauce over the sausage and stir it all together. 
showing how to make stuffed shells recipe by adding marinara with meat to the bottom of a 9x13 pan
  • Step 4:  Make ricotta sausage filling.  Add egg to a large bowl and whisk, then stir in the ricotta, sour cream, mozzarella, Parmesan, basil, parsley, oregano, pepper and nutmeg.  Finally, stir in the remaining sausage.
a collage showing how to make stuffed shells recipe by 1) adding ricotta, herbs and mozzarella to a bowl, 2) adding meat, 3) stirring it together until combined
  • Step 5:  Stuff the shells. Stuff the shells with filling using a pastry bag, snipped freezer bag, spoon or cookie scoop.  Arrange the shells as tightly as possible in the pan.  I was able to fit about 28 shells, 7 rows of 4.  
  • Step 6:  Add remaining sauce. Pour remaining marinara sauce over the shells, making sure they are covered so they don’t dry out.  Top with remaining marinara, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
a collage showing how to make stuffed shells recipe by 1) iping ricotta, meat filling into the jumbo pasta shell, 2) line meat stuffed shells in a baking dish, 3) cover the stuffed shells with marinara and mozzarella cheese
  • Step 7:  Bake.  Cover and bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 10 more minutes or until the cheese is completely melted. Dig in!
up close of stuffed shells with meat in a 9x13 baking dish

What is the best way to stuff shells?

Making Stuffed Shells doesn’t have to be messy or time consuming. For hassle free stuffing: 1) use firm noodles (cook the shells just shy of al dente) and, 2) use a piping bag. 

  • To easily make a piping bag: Place the meat ricotta filling in a large freezer bag and snip a corner large enough so the meat can pipe through (about 3/4-inch cut).
  • To easily fill the shells: Hold one shell with one hand and with your dominant hand, gather the top of the bag, place the tip into the top of the shell and squeeze the filling into the shell as you work your way down. The shells should be moderately full but not overflowing.

TIPS FOR THE BEST stuffed shells recipe

These expert tips and tricks will make your Meat Stuffed Shells recipe easier to make and more delicious!

  • Strain the ricotta.  Ricotta can be very wet, which in turn can make your stuffed shells watery.  To strain, place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Line the strainer with cheesecloth, coffee filter or paper towels.  Add the ricotta to the cheese cloth and firmly press out excess moisture. Set aside to continue to drain while you prep the rest of your ingredients.
  • Allow for shell breakage.  Each 12-ounce jumbo pasta shell box comes with about 33-35 shells, but you’ll only stuff 28 of those shells (all that fit in a 9×13 dish).  However, I still recommend cooking the entire box because you’ll always have some shells that break while cooking.
  • Cook pasta in salted the water.  Always salt your pasta water – it is the one chance you have to flavor the pasta and enhance the subtle pasta flavor – you can taste the difference.  Use 1 tablespoon salt for 6 quarts of water.
  • Don’t overcook the shells!  I recommend testing your shells about 2 or 3 minutes before the box recommends. The shells should be 1 minute shy of al dente– meaning they should still be a little firm/ have a “bite” because they will continue to cook in the oven.  Also, if the shells are cooked al dente or over cooked, they will be flimsy and hard to stuff and can easily break when stuffing.
  • Stop shells from continuing to cook. Strain and rinse your jumbo shells with cold water until they are cold to prevent them from continuing to cook, because again, flimsy shells easily break when stuffing.
  • Shred cheeses yourself.  Always avoid pre-shredded or grated bagged cheeses because the cheese is coated in anti-clumping chemicals used to prevent the strands from clumping together in the bag.  These same chemicals inhibit the cheese from melting beautifully.   Please also don’t use the green lid powdered Parmesan.
picking up a scoop of stuffed shell recipe showing how cheesy and meaty it is

stuffed shell recipe VARIATIONS

The possibilities are endless when it comes to Stuffed Shells – stuff them with anything you’d like!  The Italian sausage in this recipe equals about 3 cups, 1 ½ cups (half) of which is added to the filling.  You can equally swap the sausage with a different protein and use it in the sauce and the filling, or swap the sausage for 1 ½ cup of anything added just to the filling. Here are a few ideas:

  • For lighter, less cheesy shells: Use half as much mozzarella or omit it completely.  Use ground chicken or turkey instead Italian sausage or skip the protein altogether and add spinach (see how to below).
  • Ricotta Stuffed Shells:  Omit the sausage and increase the ricotta to 3 cups and the sour cream to 1 cup. 
  • Cottage Cheese Stuffed Shells: I love the added texture of cottage cheese if I am skipping the meat; also delicious with spinach. Omit the sausage, keep the sour cream and ricotta measurements the same and add 1 ½ cups cottage cheese to the filling.
  • Spinach Stuffed Shells:  Omit the sausage and use one 10 oz. package frozen, thawed, well drained spinach to the filling.  You can also sauté 4 cups fresh spinach in some butter or olive oil until wilted.
  • Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Shells:  Omit the sausage and use 8 oz. chopped baby bella mushrooms and 3 cups fresh baby spinach in the filling.  Melt 1 ½ tablespoons butter with 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven or large pot.  Add onions and cook 2 minutes.  Add mushrooms and sauté 4-6 minutes or until golden.  Add garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add spinach and cook on low for 1-2 minutes or until wilted.
  • Vegetable Stuffed Shells:  Use any variety of vegetables from spinach, mushrooms, bell peppers, zucchini, carrots, etc. to equal 1 ½ cups once cooked.  Chop vegetables and sauté them until tender-crisp, drain of any excess moisture and add to the filling.
  • Ground Beef Stuffed Shells:  Swap the Italian sausage with lean ground beef and season with ½ teaspoon dried fennel and additional red pepper flakes and Italian seasonings as needed.
  • Ground Turkey or Chicken Stuffed Shells:   Season as above with ½ teaspoon dried fennel and red pepper flakes and Italian seasonings to taste.  I also like to add an additional 1 teaspoon beef bouillon for extra beefy flavor. 
  • Chicken Stuffed Shells:  Substitute the sausage with 1 ½ cups shredded cooked chicken added directly to the filling.  You can stick with the marinara sauce or replace it with béchamel/Alfredo sauce.  Steamed broccoli or spinach would also be a tasty addition to the filling (if using, reduce the chicken to accommodate).
  • Seafood Stuffed Shells:  Replace the sausage with one-pound lump crab meat or a combination of crab meat and cooked, chopped shrimp.  Replace Marinara Sauce with Bechamel/Alfredo Sauce.
top view of a spoonful of stuffed shells baked in a 9x13 baking dish

HOW LONG are stuffed shells good for?

Stuffed Pasta Shells should be covered tightly with foil or transferred to an airtight container and stored in the refrigerator.  When stores properly, they are good for 4-5 days.

HOW DO I REHEAT stuffed shells?

  • Microwave:   Microwave individual portions for 90 seconds, then continue to heat at 30 second intervals until warmed through.
  • Oven:  Cover with foil and bake at 325 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until heated through.

CAN I make stuffed shells AHEAD OF TIME?

Yes!  Stuffed Pasta Shells are the perfect make-ahead meal to either refrigerate and bake the next day or to assemble and freeze. I actually think the casserole tastes better prepped ahead because the flavors have more time to meld and intensify.

To make ahead, assemble the entire Stuffed Shells casserole a day in advance, cover and refrigerate (without baking). Add an extra 10 minutes to the baking time.  

CAN I FREEZE stuffed shells?

Yes! Freezing this Stuffed Shells recipe is a great way to enjoy a bake-and-eat dinner any night of the week without any prep!  For best results, I recommend freezing unbaked Stuffed Shells; freezing baked shells should be reserved for leftovers and not meal prep.   

HOW TO FREEZE stuffed shells

  • Assemble the Stuffed Shells in a freezer safe dish but do not bake.
  • Wrap the dish tightly all around with 2 layers of plastic wrap followed by two layers of foil
  • Label and freeze for up to 3 months.
  • Bake from frozen by removing the plastic wrap and re-covering with foil.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 15-30 more minutes or until the cheese is completely melted and the shells are warmed through.  Broil if desired for a minute or two.

HOW TO FREEZE INDIVIDUAL SERVINGS of stuffed shells

  • Bake and cool: Bake Stuffed Pasta Shells according to directions. Let cool completely before portioning individual servings into freezer safe plastic bags or separate airtight containers.
  • To reheat in oven: Transfer serving(s) to a baking sheet. Bake from frozen at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes.
  • To reheat in microwave: Transfer serving to a microwave safe plate.  Microwave on high for 3 minutes then continue to microwave at 30 second intervals until heated through.
scooping up stuffed pasta shells with meat showing how meaty and cheesy it is

WHAT geos with stuffed pasta shells?

This Stuffed Shell recipe is fabulous with warm, crusty bread to mop up the sauce or with a big green salad.  If you want to get a little more ambitious, it is also delicious with any of the following:

stuffed shells RECIPE FAqs

What are stuffed shells?

Stuffed shells are a cheesy baked pasta dish, similar to Italian Manicotti or Cannelloni. Stuffed shells are made with conchiglioni pasta, or jumbo pasta shells, the larger version of conchiglie, which means “conch shells.” 

These jumbo pasta shells are stuffed with a three-cheese filling made of ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan. The jumbo pasta shells are layered in between marinara, topped with more mozzarella cheese then baked.

The filling can include other ingredients as well such as Italian sausage, ground beef, frozen or sautéed fresh spinach or mushrooms.  There are also non-traditional stuffed shell recipes including Taco Stuffed Shells, Mexican Stuffed Shells and Greek Stuffed Shells.

What’s the difference between stuffed shells and manicotti?

Both stuffed shells and manicotti are Italian stuffed pasta dishes made by par-boiling the shells, stuffing them with a ricotta-based filling (usually with mozzarella and Parmesan and sometimes spinach and meat), lining in a baking dish, covering with marinara and cheese, then baking. The difference between these two favorite stuffed pastas lies primarily in the pasta itself.

Stuffed shells: made with conchiglioni pasta, the larger version of conchiglie, which means “conch shells.” The jumbo shells open up like a shell and hold the stuffing equal to the size of an egg.  The shells are easy to stuff by adding the filling with a spoon or a piping bag.  

Manicotti:  are large tubes of pasta, about 4 inches long and 1 inch in diameter. Manicotti can be smooth or have wide, thick ridges.  They hold more filling than stuffed shells which means a higher filling to shell ratio.  The long tubular shape of manicotti also makes them more difficult to stuff. The easiest to way to stuff manicotti is to pipe the filling into one end, rotate the tube 180 degrees then pipe the filling into the opposite end.  

How many stuffed pasta shells per person?

I would assume 3-4 shells per person. Larger appetites might like up to 6, while smaller eaters may prefer 2, so you will need to take into account who you are serving.  This recipe yields about 28 stuffed shells with a hearty meat sauce, so I would assume it serves 7-9 people.

Where to buy jumbo shell pasta?

Jumbo shells are sold in most grocery stores in the pasta aisle.

How many jumbo shells are in a box?

There are 35 jumbo shells in one 12-ounce box.  This recipe uses 28 of those shells, but I recommend cooking the entire box because a few shells always break or tear while boiling.

How to keep pasta shells from sticking together?

Make sure you use plenty of water for boiling your shells.  Once the shells are cooked just shy of al dente, drain the hot water then either rinse the pasta shells in cold water until cool or place them in a bowl of cold water to prevent the pasta from sticking.

What is Al dente?

Al dente means firm to the bite. Most package instructions will give you timings for perfectly cooked al dente pasta so that the pasta is chewy and firm, holding its whole shape in whatever sauce you put it in.  In stuffed shells, you want to cook the shells one minute shy of al dente otherwise they will be flimsy, hard to stuff and easily tear when handled.

How do you know when jumbo shells are done?

Cook the jumbo shells for about 7 minutes.  You want them just shy of al dente so they are easier to stuff without tearing. They will finish cooking in the oven covered in sauce.

Can I use a glass casserole?

Absolutely!   This recipe will work great in a glass casserole dish. The standard advice for baking in glass is to lower the oven temperature by 25°F from what the recipe calls for, and bake up to 10 minutes longer. So, for this recipe, you would the stuffed shells at 325 degrees F and bake for 40 minutes.  Also, broiling is not recommended with glass bakeware because it can shatter.

Why are my stuffed shells watery?

Ricotta is the is the main culprit behind watery stuffed shells.  Ricotta has a lot of water which is released as it bakes.  To prevent watery shells, make sure to strain the ricotta before using by placing over a cheesecloth, coffee filter or paper towels placed in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl.  Press down several times to release moisture, then let rest for at least 5 minutes. Adding an egg to the ricotta filling will also help prevent watery stuffed shells.

Do you put eggs in stuffed shells?

Eggs are used in the ricotta filling of stuffed shells in order to bind the ingredients together.  As the shells bake, the egg sets, gluing the ingredients together, while still maintaining the creamy texture of the filling.

Can you use ricotta cheese without eggs?

I do not recommend using ricotta cheese filling without eggs because the filling can become watery.  If you need an eggless ricotta filling, make sure to drain the ricotta very well by placing in a cheesecloth in a fine mesh strainer and draining out any excess liquid.

Can I substitute ricotta?

Yes!  The best substitute for ricotta is 3 parts drained cottage cheese mixed with 1-part sour cream.  You may also use all drained, mashed cottage cheese.

up close of stuffed pasta shells with sausage, ricotta and herbs in marinara sauce

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scooping up stuffed shells with meat showing how meaty and cheesy it is

Stuffed Shells with Meat

These Meat Stuffed Shells are a comfort food classic!  They’re richly satisfying, hearty yet elegant and astonishingly quick and easy to make!  Jumbo pasta shells are stuffed with a creamy, flavorful luxe combination of Italian sausage, ricotta (with my secret silky ingredient!) buttery mozzarella, nutty Parmesan and a healthy dose of garlic and herbs, then baked in a bath of marinara sauce (store-bought is a great shortcut!) and melty cheese.  Each and every bite is hot, meaty, cheesy, saucy perfection – no dry shells in this recipe! You’ll also love that this recipe can easily be made up to a day in advance and refrigerated until ready to bake and it freezes beautifully. While my favorite Stuffed Shells are loaded with Italian sausage, I’ve also included recipe variations for Ricotta Stuffed Shells, Spinach Stuffed Shells, Chicken Stuffed Shells, etc. Serve your Stuffed Pasta Shells with Caesar salad and garlic bread or breadsticks for a cozy dinner everyone will love.
Servings: 28 shells (7-9 servings)
Prep Time: 25 mins
Cook Time: 40 mins

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Ingredients

SAUSAGE AND SHELLS

FILLING

  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese, strained
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, full fat please
  • 2 ½ cups freshly shredded mozzarella
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 1 ½ tsp dried
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or 1 ½ tsp dried
  • ½ tsp EACH dried oregano, garlic powder, pepper
  • 1/4 tsp EACH nutmeg, salt

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Boil shells in salted water for 1 minute less than al dente, don’t overcook! Strain, and gently rinse with cool water until shells are completely cool. Meanwhile:
  • Brown sausage and onion over medium heat in a large skillet. Add garlic and cook 30 more seconds. Pat off excess grease if you’d like.
  • Remove 1 ½ cups sausage/onions and add it to a 9×13 baking dish along with half of the marinara sauce. Stir to combine then spread into an even layer.
  • Whisk the egg in a large bowl. Add all remaining Filling ingredients and stir until creamy. Add remaining sausage and stir until evenly combined.
  • Fill each shell with the filling and line on top of the sauce in the baking dish. The easiest way to do this is add the filling to a freezer size bag, snip the corner (about 3/4-inch cut) and pipe the filling into each shell. Arrange the shells as tightly as possible. I was able to fit about 28 shells, 7 rows of 4.
  • Pour remaining marinara sauce over shells, making sure they are covered so they don’t dry out. Top the marinara with 1 ½ cups mozzarella and ⅓ cup Parmesan cheese.
  • Cover and bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes or until the cheese is completely melted. Broil if desired for a minute or two. Garnish with parsley if desired.

Video

Notes

Expert Tips and Tricks

  • Shells:  You will need one 12-ounce package of JUMBO pasta shells which comes with about 33-35 shells.  You will only stuff 28 of those shells (all that fit in a 9×13 dish), however, I still recommend cooking the entire box because some shells always break while cooking.  If your grocery store doesn’t carry them, you can order them on Amazon HERE.
  • Best Marinara:  You are welcome to use store-bought marinara or homemade (my recipe is fabulous, you’ll need to double it). For store-bought, I highly recommend the brand Rao’s.  It is by far the best store-bought marinara I’ve come across.  They are increasingly easier to find, so if your grocery store doesn’t carry them, check Costco, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, or Amazon.
  • Strain the ricotta.  Ricotta can be very wet, which in turn can make your stuffed shells watery.  To strain, place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Line the strainer with cheesecloth, coffee filter or paper towels.  Add the ricotta to the cheese cloth and firmly press out excess moisture. Set aside to continue to drain while you prep the rest of your ingredients.
  • Variations:  The possibilities are endless when it comes to Stuffed Shells – stuff them with anything you’d like!  The Italian sausage in this recipe equals about 3 cups, 1 ½ of which is added to the filling.  You can equally swap the sausage with a different protein (plus Italian seasonings and ½ teaspoon fennel) and use it in the sauce and the filling, or swap the sausage for 1 ½ cups of anything you’d like added just to the filling such as spinach, cottage cheese, additional ricotta, chicken, etc.  See post for a list of detailed variations.

How to Make Ahead, Store and Reheat

  • Make ahead:  Assemble the entire casserole a day in advance (without baking), cover and refrigerate. Add an extra 10 minutes to the baking time when ready to cook.  
  • To store: Tightly cover with foil or transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.
  • To freeze: Assemble the entire casserole but do not bake.  Wrap the dish tightly all around with 2 layers of plastic wrap followed by two layers of foil.  Label and freeze for up to 3 months.  Bake from frozen by removing the plastic wrap and re-covering with foil.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 15-30 more minutes or until the cheese is completely melted and the shells are warmed through.  Broil if desired for a minute or two.
  • To reheat in the microwave:   Microwave individual portions for 90 seconds, then continue to heat at 30 second intervals until warmed through.
  • To reheat in the oven:  Cover with foil and bake at 325 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until heated through.

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2 Comments

  1. Constance Farmer says

    Delicious! Even the son that doesn’t like pasta said it was ok. I refrigerated overnight to have after church on Sunday. Took an hour and a half to get bubbly. Worth the wait.

    • Jen says

      I’m so pleased it was a hit with everyone, thanks so much Constance!

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