This Recipe for Stuffed Pasta Shells is simple to follow and made with easy to find ingredients. Jumbo pasta shells are stuffed to the brim with Italian sausage, ricotta cheese, marinara sauce and freshly grated mozzarella then oven baked to cheesy perfection.
If you love Italian food and want to feel like you’re eating it at the best Italian restaurant in town but without having to leave your kitchen, then put your hat on, chef, cause this easy recipe for Stuffed Pasta Shells accomplishes exactly that. It’s always a winner with the entire family – adults and kids alike! Whether you’re a proud Italian like I am or just a person who shares the same love of food, I just know you’re going to loves these babies just as much as I do (and everyone I feed them to!) They’re fresh, flavourful and so much easier to make than you might think. These Stuffed Pasta Shells are absolutely loaded with simple but delicious flavours and are a cheese lover’s dream.
Think lasagna but stuffed into a shell like pasta instead of layered on a noodle (and so much easier to make!). Undeniably good and forever one of my favourite things to both make and eat!
These Italian Sausage and Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells are perfect for feeding large crowds. They’re great for family dinners, holidays, potlucks, gatherings, parties and even things like game days or your next Superbowl Party. They’re fun to make (involve the whole family!) and you can easily scale the recipe up or down to make however many you need. But since they freeze well, why not just make a big batch so future you can enjoy them too!
Once you discover how easy it is to stuff pasta shells, you’re going to see that the list of ingredients you can stuff them with is endless! I chose to keep things slightly traditional in this one with a simple (but downright flavourful) classic mixture of Italian sausage and ricotta. But something tells me that this won’t be the only stuffed pasta shell recipe that lives on the blog in the near future. Stay tuned 😉
INGREDIENTS FOR STUFFED PASTA SHELLS
This recipe for Stuffed Pasta Shells might seem impressive and fancy and look like it just came out of your favourite Italian restaurant. But trust me! It’s made with simple and easy to find ingredients but the way the flavours work together are next level. Let’s discuss the ingredients in a little bit more detail down below:
- Pasta Shells: The vessel that holds all that delicious filling. You can find these in the dry pasta section of pretty much any grocery store. Make sure you get the box that says “Jumbo” Pasta Shells. I know they look pretty small in the box and you might have second thoughts of whether or not you bought the right ones. But as long as you buy the “jumbo” ones, you did as they will expand slightly after they’re cooked. Once the shells are cooked, they’re very easy to work with and you should have no problems stuffing them with the filling.
- Italian Sausage: The bulk of the super flavourful stuffing in this recipe for Stuffed Pasta Shells. Italian sausage is already seasoned with Italian herbs and spices. It’s packed full of flavour and that’s why this recipe doesn’t require very many ingredients. You can use mild, medium, hot or sweet Italian sausage depending on the flavour you’re going for. However, you can always use a different ground meat instead, if you prefer – just be sure to season it well. Ground beef, turkey or chicken all make good alternatives.
- Ricotta: A soft Italian cheese that pairs perfectly with the rest of the ingredients. It’s an important part of the filling and makes this dish creamy and delicious.
- Mozzarella: Makes the dish ooey, gooey, cheesy and delicious. Freshly grated mozzarella that you grate yourself works best in this recipe as we want the dish to be as cheesy as can be. RECIPE NOTE: You may notice that in the recipe video I *accidently* put mozzarella cheese on the stuffed shells before the marinara sauce. Normally I put the marinara sauce first then the mozzarella cheese so it melts on top of the entire dish. You can do it however you want… Let’s just say, I wasn’t complaining about the extra cheese.
- Parmesan: Cause three cheeses are better than two, am I right? Freshly grated parmesan cheese works best in this recipe.
- Marinara (or Tomato Sauce): Adds flavour to the dish. Besides, what’s an Italian pasta dish without a little bit of Marinara sauce, you feel me? You can use homemade or store bought marinara sauce for this recipe.
- Egg: Adds extra flavour and structure to the ricotta mixture (filling) in these Pasta Stuffed Shells.
- Parsley: Adds a herby freshness to the dish and a pop of colour to the final product. Fresh chopped parsley works best in this recipe.
- Salt/Pepper: As always, a little bit of salt and pepper brings the dish together and makes the flavours from the rest of the ingredients pop.
HOW TO MAKE STUFFED PASTA SHELLS (KEY TIPS)
You can find full instructions for how to make these Italian Sausage and Ricotta Stuffed Shells in the recipe card down below, but here are a few quick tips to keep in mind for this recipe:
- Get jumbo pasta shells. They might look a bit on the small side in the box but they’ll expand a bit as they cook. They’re the perfect little vessel to stuff as they tend to hold quite a bit of filling. EXTRA TIP: Account for broken shells as some could tear as they cook. I recommend cooking the entire box of shells even if you don’t end up stuffing them all. EXTRA EXTRA TIP: Run the shells under cold water after you drain them to stop them from cooking. Then drizzle the cooked pasta shells with a bit of olive oil. This prevents them from sticking together as they wait to be stuffed.
- Don’t overcook the pasta shells. For this recipe, you’re going to want to cook the pasta shells a little bit (~2-3 minutes) under what the back of the box directs for fully cooked pasta. Overcooked pasta becomes flimsy and harder to stuff. Also, the pasta shells will continue to cook once you transfer the dish to the oven.
- Have everything ready before starting to fill your shells. Cook and drain the pasta. Make the ricotta filling. Cook and drain the Italian sausage. Mix the two together. Have the marinara sauce ready to go. Grate the cheese. And only then begin to fill the shells so you can work as quickly and efficiently as possible.
- Cook and drain the Italian sausage before adding it to the ricotta mixture. The sausage will never cook on it’s own if you just mix it into the filling raw. For safety purposes, fully cook the Italian sausage and then mix it into the ricotta to make the filling.
- Don’t be shy with the filling and load these babies up to the brim! The pasta shells should be full of the sausage and ricotta filling with lots of melted mozzarella on top. Don’t skimp on either the filling or the cheese!
- When placing the stuffed pasta shells into the baking dish, it’s ok if they’re snug and cozy and the sides are touching. However, be sure not to pile them on top of each other. We want each one to have enough marinara sauce and melted cheese. Plus, we don’t want them to stick together and become a big mess to serve.
- Use freshly grated cheese that you grate yourself. Avoid the pre-grated ones you can find at the grocery store. The pre-packaged cheeses have an anti-caking agent which prevents the cheese from melting properly. We’re going for the ooeiest, gooiest cheese to top this dish!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
You’re going to want to go for the pasta shells that say “Jumbo” on the bag or box they come in. They will look a bit on the small side when they’re dry but as they cook, they’ll expand a bit and become flexible. After cooking, they’re very easy to work with and hold a lot of filling so you should have no problems stuffing them. You can find these Jumbo Pasta Shells in the dry pasta section of most grocery stores.
In this recipe for stuffed pasta shells, we add an egg, chopped parsley and parmesan cheese to the ricotta to help thicken it. Then we mix in the cooked Italian sausage to really make a nice thick and filling stuffing for the pasta shells.
Ricotta cheese is naturally a bit watery and therefore can result in watery shells. To prevent this, we add an egg and parmesan cheese to the ricotta to help absorb some of the moisture and thicken it up a bit. If you have the time and patience, you can always strain the moisture out of the ricotta by using a cheesecloth or letting it sit in a strainer for a few minutes. The type of marinara or tomato sauce you’re using can also result in watery shells. Choose a thick variety that holds up well in the oven.
You mean what doesn’t go good with stuffed pasta shells?! Some of my favourite things to serve alongside these stuffed shells are: Kale Caesar Salad, Restaurant Style Garlic Bread, 5 minute Egg Drop Soup, Roasted Cauliflower or Broccoli or a simple but fresh Cucumber or Tomato Salad.
YES! This very reason is why these Stuffed Pasta Shells are amongst one of my personal favourite recipes to make in my kitchen! You can make a big batch, portion them out into individual trays and pop them in the freezer where they’ll be good for up to 4 months. You’ll have to double up the cooking time if you’re cooking them directly from frozen. But you can also allow them to thaw in the fridge overnight and then cook, adding an additional 10 minutes to the time stated in the recipe card down below.
You can also make these Stuffed Pasta Shells up to 24 hours before you actually want to bake them making them perfect for large gatherings or busy weeknights. Simply follow the instructions as directed in the recipe card up until step ___. Top the tray with foil and put it in the fridge overnight. When ready to bake, pop them in the oven and cook as instructed, adding an additional 10 minutes to the time stated in the recipe card down below to account for the chilled shells.
- 1 (12-14 ounce) box Jumbo Pasta Shells
- 3 cups Mozzarella Cheese, grated
- 2-3 cups Marinara Sauce
- 1 (475g) tub Ricotta
- 1 pound Italian Sausage*
- 1 Egg
- 1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese, plus more for sprinkling and serving
- 2 tbsp Fresh Chopped Parsley, plus more for garnish
- 1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus more for drizzling
- Salt and Pepper, to taste
- In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta shells until al dente, ~2-3 minutes under the time it says on the back of the box. Drain and drizzle with a little olive oil to keep them from sticking together.
- In a large non-stick skillet, cook the Italian sausage in the olive oil, breaking it up into little pieces, if needed. Drain.
- In a small bowl, add the ricotta, parmesan, parsley, egg and salt and pepper. Stir until well combined. Add the cooked sausage and mix again until well combined.
- Preheat the oven to 350° and spoon a few tablespoons of marinara into the bottom of a baking dish*
- Using a spoon, stuff the sausage and ricotta mixture into each shell filling them to the brim. You can pat the filling down a bit with the back of the spoon but don't aggressively push it down. Place the filled shells in the baking dish. It's ok if the sides are touching but don't pile them on top of each other.
- Spread the remaining marinara sauce evenly over the tops of the shells then top with the mozzarella cheese. You can add an extra sprinkling of parmesan here, too, if you like.
- Bake, covered with foil, for 25-30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 5 until the cheese is nice and bubbly. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and serve with extra parmesan cheese and chili flakes, if desired.
You can use mild, medium, hot or sweet Italian sausage depending on the flavour you're going for.
You can either use a 9x13 baking dish or two 6x6 baking dishes.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 644Total Fat: 43gSaturated Fat: 18gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 26gCholesterol: 134mgSodium: 2224mgCarbohydrates: 27gFiber: 5gSugar: 15gProtein: 35g
Nutrition is only an estimate and calculated using Nutritionix.
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