Looking for a quick and delicious dinner? Easy Italian Stuffed Shells are a classic comfort food that no one can resist and will transport you to the heart of Italy! Perfect for those busy nights when you don’t have a lot of time to make dinner, but delicious enough for company! Delectable pasta shells are filled with a delightful combination of creamy cheeses, savory sweet Italian sausage and aromatic herbs, and smothered with marinara sauce and bubbling cheese, creating a home-cooked dinner that is loaded with Italian flavor. Serve these flavorful Italian Stuffed Shells alongside a simple salad and cheesy garlic bread for a cozy dinner that’s perfect anytime of the year!
TIPS & TRICKS FOR EASY STUFFED SHELLS:
1 12 oz. box jumbo pasta shells
2 24 oz. jars marinara sauce (Rao’s or other quality sauce recommended)
1 pound sweet Italian sausage (casings removed)
½ medium yellow onion (chopped)
3 garlic cloves (minced)
HERB RICOTTA CHEESE FILLING:
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese, strained
1/2 cup sour cream
2 ½ cups freshly shredded mozzarella
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (or 1 ½ teaspoon dried)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (or 1 ½ teaspoon dried)
½ teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups freshly shredded mozzarella
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh parsley (chopped)
HOW I MAKE THIS:
YIELD: 28 shells (about 8 servings)
Do I have to use Italian Sausage? Sweet Italian sausage is one of the easiest ways to get perfect flavor in Italian recipes without added effort. If you prefer, you can substitute regular ground beef or ground turkey, or leave the meat out altogether for meat-free stuffed shells – see Recipe Variations. This recipe is so easy to customize!
Strain ricotta: Ricotta can be very wet, which in turn can make your stuffed shells watery. To prevent this, start by straining your ricotta cheese. Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Line the strainer with paper towels, a large coffee filter or cheesecloth. Spoon the ricotta into the lined strainer and firmly press out excess moisture with the back of a silicone spatula.
Allow for shells breaking: A 12-ounce jumbo pasta shell box comes with about 33-35 shells, but you’ll only need 28 to fill a 9x13 baking dish. I recommend cooking the entire box so that you'll have extra in case your shells break or tear while cooking or filling - and they always do!
Cook pasta in salted water: Always add salt to your pasta water – which enhances the subtle pasta flavor – you can taste the difference! Use 1 tablespoon salt for 6 quarts of water.
Don’t overcook pasta shells: Cook your shells about 2 or 3 minutes less than the box recommends. The shells should be al dente– meaning they should still be a little firm/ have a “bite” because they will continue to cook in the oven when sauced up. Also, if the shells are cooked completely or over-cooked, they will be flimsy, hard to stuff and easily break when filling.
Stop shells from cooking: Strain and rinse jumbo shells with icy cold water until they are completely chilled to prevent them from continuing to cook and becoming flimsy or tearing apart when stuffing.
Easily stuff cooked shells: To easily stuff shells, fill a pastry bag or freezer bag with cheese filling and cut off a large tip/corner and gently squeeze the filling into the shells. You can also use a cookie scoop or spoon, being careful not to tear the edges.
Shred block cheese: As with most dishes, always shred your own block cheese for best results. Bagged cheese may be easier, but pre-shredded or grated cheeses are coated in anti-clumping chemicals that prevent it from clumping together in the bag and prevent it from melting into creamy silky cheesiness! It’s worth the time to shred fresh – and only takes minutes!
MAKE AHEAD DIRECTIONS: To make ahead of time, layer the ingredients in a casserole dish, cover and refrigerate (without baking). Add an extra 10 minutes to the baking time.
STORING STUFFED SHELLS: Place leftover stuffed shells in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 4 days. Reheat either in the oven or in the microwave until warm.
REHEATING STUFFED SHELLS: Place individual servings in a microwave safe container. To minimize splattering and to ensure that the stuffed shells taste fresh and moist after reheating, sprinkle a little water on top and cover with a damp paper towel before microwaving. Reheat in the microwave for 3-4 minutes on 50% power – add additional minutes at 50% power as necessary until heated through.
Original recipe created by Snowflakes & Coffeecakes June 2014; revised and reposted August 2023.
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