Cheesy Stuffed Shells – Once Upon a Chef

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In this classic Italian stuffed shells recipe, there’s no need to parboil the pasta—just stuff, bake, and enjoy!

When I think of classic Italian stuffed shells, I think of cozy Sunday night dinners around the table with family. This recipe, adapted from Big Flavors from Italian America by Cook’s Country, fits that bill perfectly. The recipe is fairly simple to make because there is no need to parboil the shells before stuffing them. Instead, the shells are smothered in a thin tomato sauce prior to baking, ensuring the pasta cooks through. The filling is loaded with flavor, thanks to a blend of creamy ricotta, gooey fontina, and salty Pecorino Romano cheeses, as well as garlic, basil, and oregano. Finally, to make the dish even more irresistible, a generous sprinkle of fontina cheese over the shells creates a rich, cheesy topping. Even without any meat, this dish is as satisfying as the heartiest lasagna.

To stuff the shells, disposable pastry bags come in handy (and you can use them for decorating cakes and cookies, too). However, if you don’t have them, a ziplock bag with a snipped corner does the job well.

What You’ll Need To Make Stuffed Shells

stuffed shells ingredients

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: Make the Sauce

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, salt and pepper. onions, salt, and pepper in sauce pan

Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds (don’t brown the garlic).

adding garlic and red pepper flakes

Stir in crushed tomatoes, water, and sugar and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, until flavors have melded, about 5 minutes. (The cooled sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

simmering tomato sauce

Step 2: Make the Filling

Combine the ricotta cheese, shredded fontina (or whole-milk mozzarella) cheese, Pecorino Romano cheese, eggs, basil, cornstarch, garlic, oregano, and salt in a bowl.
stuffed shells cheese mixture ingredients in bowl

Mix until thoroughly combined.

mixed ricotta cheese filling

Transfer the filling to a pastry bag or large zipper-lock bag. (If using a zipper-lock bag, be sure the corners are square; the rounded-corner bags are difficult to use.)

how to fill the pastry bag or plastic bag with the cheese filling

Step 3: Stuff and Bake the Shells

Adjust the oven rack to middle position and preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the shells open side up on the counter. Cut ½-inch off of the tip or corner of the bag.

snipping off the top of the pastry bagPipe the filling into shells until each is full.

stuffed shells on counter

Spread 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Transfer the shells, open side up, to the prepared dish.

stuffed shells over tomato sauce in baking dish

Pour the remaining sauce evenly over the shells to completely cover.

stuffed shells covered with tomato sauce

Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil. Bake until the shells are tender and the sauce is boiling rapidly, about 45 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and discard the foil.

partially cooked stuffed shells

Sprinkle the fontina (or mozzarella) over the top. Return to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the cheese is lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

stuffed shells covered with cheese

Let the dish cool, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes (this rest is essential to fully cook the pasta).

Sprinkle with the basil and serve.

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Cheesy Stuffed Shells

In this classic Italian stuffed shells recipe, there’s no need to parboil the pasta—just stuff, bake, and enjoy!

Ingredients

For the Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crush tomatoes
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tsp sugar

For the Filling

  • 1¼ cups (10 oz) whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup (4 oz) shredded fontina or whole-milk mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup (2 oz) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1½ tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp salt

For the Shells

  • 25 to 30 jumbo pasta shells, from a 1-lb box (use only open, unbroken shells)
  • 2 cups (8 oz) shredded fontina or whole-milk mozzarella cheese
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh basil

Instructions

  1. For the sauce: Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds (don’t brown the garlic). Stir in crushed tomatoes, water, and sugar and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, until flavors have melded, about 5 minutes. (The cooled sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)
  3. For the filling: Stir all the ingredients in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Transfer the filling to a pastry bag or large zipper-lock bag, and cut ½-inch off of the tip or corner of the bag. (If using a zipper-lock bag, be sure the corners are square; the rounded-corner bags are difficult to use.)
  4. For the shells: Adjust the oven rack to middle position and preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the shells open side up on the counter. Pipe the filling into shells until each is full.
  5. Spread 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of 9×13-inch baking dish. Transfer the shells, open side up, to the prepared dish. Pour the remaining sauce evenly over the shells to completely cover.
  6. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil. Bake until the shells are tender and the sauce is boiling rapidly, about 45 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and discard the foil; sprinkle the fontina or mozzarella over the top. Return to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the cheese is lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Let the dish cool, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes (this rest is essential to fully cook the pasta). Sprinkle with the basil and serve.
  7. Make-Ahead/Freezing Instructions: The stuffed shells can be assembled and refrigerated up to 1 day ahead of time, or frozen for up to 3 months. Defrost in the refrigerator for 24 hours, then proceed with the baking instructions in the recipe. Leftover stuffed shells can also be frozen; if time allows, thaw before reheating, then cover with foil, and heat in a 325°F on until hot.

Nutrition Information

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  • Per serving (8 servings)
  • Calories: 563
  • Dish: 26 g
  • Saturated fat: 13 g
  • Carbohydrates: 56 g
  • Sugar: 8 g
  • Fiber: 4g
  • Protein: 28 g
  • Sodium: 783 mg
  • Cholesterol: 121 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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