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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.
Course Main Course, Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings 28 shells (7-9 servings)




  • 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 1/2 tsp dried
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or 1 1/2 tsp dried
  • ½ tsp EACH dried oregano, garlic powder, pepper
  • 1/4 tsp EACH nutmeg, salt


  • 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 1/2 cups sausage/onions and add it to a 9x13 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 1/3 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.



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 9x13 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 1/2 of which is added to the filling.  You can equally swap the sausage with a different protein (plus Italian seasonings and 1/2 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.