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Cheesy Stuffed Shells

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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 America’s Test Kitchen, fits that bill perfectly. The recipe is fairly simple to make because there’s 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 or filling deviled eggs, 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 the 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 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 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 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!

Servings: 6 to 8
Prep Time: 40 Minutes
Cook Time: 1 Hour 20 Minutes
Total Time: 2 Hours, plus 20 minutes to cool

Ingredients

For the Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon 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 (3.5 oz) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1½ tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon 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 tablespoon 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 the 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 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 9x13-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 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 with foil, and heat in a 325°F oven until hot.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (8 servings)
  • Calories: 563
  • Fat: 26 g
  • Saturated fat: 13 g
  • Carbohydrates: 56 g
  • Sugar: 8 g
  • Fiber: 4 g
  • 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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Comments

  • Very tasty! I too had a little trouble finding the jumbo shells but came up with a box eventually.
    Makes a nice side dish to breaded chicken breast or Italian sausage! Fun to fill those shells too!
    Thanks Jen!

    • — Lisa on January 30, 2023
    • Reply
  • I got everything for this recipe except the Jumbo Shells. Apparently, there is a shortage of them after asking customer service at my 3rd grocery store. Any ideas for a workaround? Love your 2 cookbooks and am making Chicken & Quinoa burrito bowls for company tonight.

    • — Jane C. on January 28, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Jane, The recipe works perfectly with manicotti shells too. So glad you enjoy the recipes!

      • — Jenn on January 28, 2023
      • Reply
  • Just made this for dinner, it was a hit! Made the recipe as is. Next time will try to add Italian sausage for the meat eaters in the family. Thank you!

    • — Tricia King on January 25, 2023
    • Reply
  • Well, this is one of the best Italian-style meals that I’ve ever made. It cooked perfectly and it tasted fantastic! Raves all around for this one.
    I used 1 lb. of finely crumbled sweet Italian sausage, a a primo 32 oz. jar of marinara sauce (along with 2 cups of water) and grated fontina cheese (thanks, Jenn).
    I had read an earlier comment that jumbo shells were becoming hard to find, so that day I went out to buy some and sure enough, they had vanished from the shelves all over town. I had to buy some online. Plenty of other pasta available, though. Go figure.
    Anyway, thanks ATK and Jenn for adapting this recipe for us. I really appreciate it.

    • — John M. on January 22, 2023
    • Reply
  • Thank you Jen, another great recipe. I just had a little problem finding the large shells, but the third store had them. I also had a little mess trying to stuff the shell. Finally I got the assembly going with great success. Thank you for your excellent instructions. I needed them.

    • — Dianne Wilson on January 22, 2023
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn, Why do you include cornstarch in the recipe?

    • — Carol on January 22, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Carol, It helps prevent the cheese mixture from oozing out of the shells during baking.

      • — Jenn on January 22, 2023
      • Reply
  • I’m going to make this on Sunday. Would it be better to grate rather than shred the fontina cheese for the filling to make it easier to get through the small opening of the pastry bag? Thanks!

    • — John M. on January 20, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi John, I didn’t have a problem the shredded cheese as it comes together with the other ingredients and pipes in easily. That said, feel free to grate it if you feel more comfortable with that. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on January 20, 2023
      • Reply
  • I couldn’t find large shells anywhere-looked at 3 different stores – out of stock at each store for large shells only – all other pasta shapes were in stock…go figure. Decided to try manicotti shells instead and the dish came out spectacularly. I prepared it 24 hours in advance and refrigerated before baking the next night. First bite and the consensus was “wow, this is delicious” – better than any Italian restaurant version. Thanks for yet another delicious staple recipe I’ll use often. It’s a perfect make-ahead dish for guests. You are definitely my go-to recipe chef!

    • — Leslie on January 18, 2023
    • Reply
  • Must admit I was skeptical about filling the shells before cooking them, but they turned out perfect! My wife and daughter loved this recipe, and so did I. Thanks so much!

    • — Mark Dallmann on January 17, 2023
    • Reply
  • For the filling, it “stir all ingredients until combined” but then it says to sprinkle at the end with fontina and then basil. I hadn’t read ahead and put the basil in with the mix. Should I have reserved some and set aside or was I to put the basil and fontina in twice?

    • — Shoba on January 16, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Shoba, For the filling, it’s correct to add the 1 cup of fontina and the 3 tablespoons basil to the mixture. For the shells portion of the recipe, you’ll add the 2 cups of fontina during the baking and the 1 tablespoon of basil at the end right before serving. Please LMK if you need any more clarification. 🙂

      • — Jenn on January 17, 2023
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn. My family and I love your recipes and cookbooks. In fact, we all have your cookbooks now. Could this recipe be made ahead of time and frozen? Thanks!!

    • — Kerry Beach on January 16, 2023
    • Reply
    • So glad you like the recipes and cookbooks! 💗
      You can freeze this — see the bottom of the recipe for freezer-friendly instructions.

      • — Jenn on January 16, 2023
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    Made this tonight and it earned me rave reviews with the fam! Thank you! I did have an interesting question, I live in Australia and of course use the metric system and have never had an issue with measurements on your site. But….in making this, for the amount of shells in grams that you noted, I ended up needing to double filling, to about 600 g ricotta to fill the shells! Why would that be? It was delicious and thank goodness I did have extra ricotta on hand! 🙂 Loved this recipe.

    • — StephDownUnder on January 16, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Steph! So glad your family enjoyed it! The recipe calls for 25 to 30 shells, from a 1-lb/454-g box, but you won’t use the whole box. Hope that clarifies!

      • — Jenn on January 16, 2023
      • Reply
      • Oh lol, so I actually did double the recipe, that is so funny. I misread and thought it said there were 25-30 in the 454 grams. Haha! Well, good thing I doubled it, it all vanished! 🙂 Thank you!

        • — StephDownUnder on January 16, 2023
        • Reply
  • Made these tonight- halved the recipe except the salt- went all in on the salt because there was some Pinot Noir involved and I forgot to reduce the amount used. Our home smells so wonderful and the shells were delicious, though I recommend not doubling the salt called for. Will definitely make again.

    • — Shannon C on January 15, 2023
    • Reply
  • I’m just praising the owner/creater of this fabulous website for publishing some of the most delicious and easy to do dishes I’ve ever experienced. Thank you!

    • — Norman Poplowitz on January 15, 2023
    • Reply
    • I agree! The website is so user friendly and the recipes are fabulous. My cousin shared the website with me and her comment was “I no longer stress out about making a new recipe when having guests for dinner…..because every single thing I’ve made from Jenn’s collection has been wonderful!” I feel the same way! So thankful she shared her secret with me! Thank you Jenn for all the time and effort you put into this website!

      • — Cindy on January 17, 2023
      • Reply
  • Excellent. Whole family liked this recipe and that makes it a keeper!

    • — Carol on January 15, 2023
    • Reply
  • Absolutely delicious!

    • — Katherine on January 15, 2023
    • Reply
  • This dish turned out perfect. Followed the recipe as written and then also added some finely chopped spinach to the cheese filling and fire roasted diced tomatoes to the sauce. This will definitely be part of my rotation.

    • — David on January 13, 2023
    • Reply
  • Are the shells uncooked?

    • — Rosanne on January 13, 2023
    • Reply
    • Yes, they cook in the oven. 🙂

      • — Jenn on January 14, 2023
      • Reply
  • If you wanted to use jarred sauce as a shortcut, about how many ounces (or jars) would you need to ensure full coverage of the uncooked shells?

    • — Marissa on January 12, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Marissa, I would use a 32 oz jar (and still add the water). I’d love to know how the shortcut version turns out!

      • — Jenn on January 12, 2023
      • Reply
  • I am so happy to have found your website. I’ve made several recipes and they have all been delicious. One of my favorites and often requested is cheesecake bar recipe.
    Would this stuff shell mixture be a good one to use for lasagna roll ups?

    • — Neva on January 12, 2023
    • Reply
    • Yes, definitely – and so glad you enjoy the recipes!

      • — Jenn on January 12, 2023
      • Reply
  • I have been looking for shells or manicotti pasta in the grocery for 90 days. Nowhere to be found. Los Angeles groceries don’t have them! Any suggestions out there?? I’d love to make this!!!

    • — Heather on January 12, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Heather, Oh no! I noticed it was a little hard to find them over the holidays near me, but I’m now seeing some available. I found an artisan brand that you can order online here. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on January 12, 2023
      • Reply
    • Hi Heather,
      I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and I have tried to find Pasta Shells in my area too, to no avail. I did find one lonely box at a Gourmet Grocery store that is imported from Italy. Brand name ‘Rusticella diabruzzo.

      • — Margie on January 14, 2023
      • Reply
  • Yummy recipe. However, my husband prefers meat in his meals. Do you have a recommendation for adding meat to this recipe to accommodate him?

    • — Mommo on January 12, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Mommo, You could add a pound of cooked crumbled Italian sausage (similar to this recipe) to the sauce. I’d love to know how it turns out if you try it.

      • — Jenn on January 12, 2023
      • Reply
  • Hi Jen, could I use cannelloni instead of shells? Would I need to adapt the baking time?

    • — Nicole on January 12, 2023
    • Reply
    • Yes I think that would work well. The bake time would be the same. Please LMK how it turns out!

      • — Jenn on January 12, 2023
      • Reply
  • Wow, looks so easy! Do you squeeze out the ricotta before mixing? Or does the baking process leach out the extra moisture?

    • — Kathy on January 12, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Kathy, It’s not necessary to drain the ricotta. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on January 12, 2023
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,

    Happy New Year!!! Wishing you and your family health and happiness for 2023!!!

    Our family loves your recipes- we have learned so so much ❤️.

    Would it be possible to use fresh tomatoes in this recipe and if yes how do I incorporate it to ensure it works just as well as the canned tomatoes?

    Thank you for all your help,
    Annie P.

    • — Annie Papazian on January 12, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Annie, So glad you enjoy the recipes! Unfortunately I don’t think the fresh tomatoes would work here without a ton of changes. Sorry!

      • — Jenn on January 12, 2023
      • Reply
  • Looks delicious !1 Can’t wait to make this !

    • — char on January 12, 2023
    • Reply

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