When it comes to pasta, I like to keep it simple. A little sauce, a little cheese, a little flavor, and just like that, we’re good to go for dinner.
Which, of course, is exactly what I adore about ricotta stuffed shells. They’re like tiny beds of pasta filled with savory cheeses on a bed of red sauce. What more can you ask for from a pasta dish?
Well, okay, I guess you could ask for more – and an old friend of mine usually does when I make this. He’s the type that prefers to have beef or pork for dinner, so while I’m over here excited about cheese, he’s busy telling me that’s not enough for him.
But that brings me to the second reason why I love this recipe:
It’s super easy to customize.
Want to add some spinach? Go ahead!
Feel like adding some ground beef, ground sausage, or shredded chicken? Feel free!
It’s easy to include any additional fillings you want.
If you want to add more fillings, how do you do it?
If you’re like an old friend of mine and craving something a little “more” than just a cheese filling, it’s easy to change this dish to your liking.
When planning out the recipe, all you need to do is make two changes:
- First change – Adjust the recipe from 2 cup ricotta, 2 cup mozzarella, and 2 eggs to 1 cup ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella, and 1 egg.
- Second change – Add in up to two cups worth of any filling your choice.
Once you’ve made these adjustments, just mix your new chosen fillings in the ricotta, cheese, and egg. From there you can fill the jumbo shells as instructed in the recipe.
What kind of fillings can you add?
We’ve tried the following fillings and loved them. However, I do want to stress that any fillings (especially meat) should be cooked first. Do not add raw meat fillings to the shells. Raw veggies are okay, depending on the type or your preference. The general rule of thumb I use is that if you wouldn’t eat it like it is before adding it to the shells then cook it first. And if you’re ever in doubt or unsure, you can just save yourself the guesswork and cook it.
- Cooked and crumbled ground sausage.
- Cooked and crumbled ground beef.
- Cooked shredded chicken.
- Spinach (we used frozen spinach that had been thawed and drained).
- Mushrooms, cooked and tender.
Can you freeze cheese stuffed shells before baking?
Yes, you totally can!
For best results, assemble the stuffed shells (by filling the pasta with prepared ricotta mixture), then store the shells in a freezer container or bag.
Stuffed shells should keep the best quality for two to three months, but should not be frozen for longer than six months.
When ready to bake, just add marinara sauce to a dish, arrange stuffed shells inside, pour any remaining marinara sauce on top, and bake the stuffed shells for five to ten minutes longer than instructed in the recipe.
Can you freeze cheese stuffed shells after baking?
Bad news here, guys. While you technically “can” freeze this dish after baking, I can’t recommend doing it.
The reason for this is because the texture of the ricotta can change once frozen. And while that’s not a big deal before baking, when all of the ingredients are separate and haven’t melted together, it becomes a different story once everything is creamy together. You’ll also be freezing the marinara sauce with the pasta, making it harder to check the filling and see how it’s faired while frozen.
However, if you simply have to freeze this recipe after baking, take these steps:
- When baking, instead of spraying the baking dish with cooking spray, line it with aluminum foil.
- Before freezing, allow the dish to come to room temperature. Use the foil to lift the pasta out of the baking dish, then transfer it (and the foil) to a sealable container of your choice. The foil will help lock in moisture and hopefully prolong the life of the ricotta.
- When ready to bake, allow the pasta to thaw in the refrigerator overnight, then transfer the foil+pasta to a baking dish. Heat in the oven at 360 degrees F for 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
More great pasta dishes
Notes & tips for ricotta stuffed shells
- When working with jumbo shells, be prepared to discover two things: many of the shells will be broken in the box and many of the shells will tear while cooking. I wish I had some tips to help prevent this but I think it’s just the nature of the beast. I deal with it by always buying extra shells and/or cooking more shells than I think I will need. Pasta is the cheapest ingredient in this recipe, so if you have to pick, it’s better to have too much of it than too few.
- I like using my own homemade marinara sauce for this recipe so that I can control the consistency and flavor. Feel free to use any red sauce you prefer, whether it’s storebought, homemade, marinara, or classic pasta sauce.
How to make this easy stuffed shells recipe
This next part is only a photo tutorial of the recipe steps. If you’re looking for the full recipe measurements and instructions, scroll down to Recipe Details.
Step 1 – Cook the jump shells one minute shy of the package instructions, then drain. Place the cooled shells in a shallow bowl to cool.
Step 4 – Once the shells have cooled, pick one up and hold it in your weaker hand while you spoon the creamy ricotta mixture inside with the other (check the recipe instructions or the recipe video for a detailed tutorial my method for this). Once the jumbo shell is filled, place it in the baking dish, seam side up. Arrange the shells in the baking dish however you like (I like to do three columns of six to eight shells).
Step 5 – When all the shells are in the dish, pour in the remaining half of the red sauce, focusing on the areas between the shells and around the corners.
Step 6 – Bake!
Step 7 – Serve and enjoy!
This recipe was originally published on April 8th, 2015. It was updated with new photos, revised recipe, and text on August 13th, 2018.
Ricotta Stuffed Shells
These easy and simple ricotta stuffed shells are filled with savory ricotta and mozzarella then baked on a bed of flavorful marinara (storebought or homemade!)
Check jumbo shells; discard any that are broken, making sure you have at least 18-22 whole shells. Cook jumbo shells per package instructions, reducing cook time by 1 minute. Drain, cover, then set nearby. Note: plan to cook a few more shells than you need, as jumbo shells have a tendency to break or tear while cooking.
To fill the shells: Cup a jumbo shell in your weaker hand, facing the shell so that the tighter curl of the shell is close to your thumb and the looser part rests on your palm or other fingers. Use your thumb to pry open the shell, then scoop in the ricotta cheese mix. When shell is filled, place it on top of the marinara sauce, seam side up. Repeat this step until all shells are filled.
Pour the remaining marinara sauce on top of the shells, focusing on filling the gaps between the shells.
Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove foil, then bake for an additional 5-10 minutes.
Allow dish to cool for 5 minutes (or until the sauce stops bubbling) then serve.