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Absolutely delicious, easy baked Stuffed Shells! They have a creamy ricotta filling and are covered in a homemade Italian tomato sauce with more cheese.
Our classic ricotta cheese Stuffed Shells is the ultimate comfort food meal that kids and grown-ups both adore! Afterall, who doesn’t love jumbo pasta shells filled to the brim with creamy ricotta, then smothered in sauce and baked to golden perfection?
Why you’ll love this Stuffed Shells recipe:
- It’s easy to make. We share some tips and tricks below* that makes it very easy to fill your pasta shells with a creamy, herb-infused ricotta cheese mixture.
- You can make this recipe ahead of time. Then, pop it in the oven to bake when you’re ready to eat. Or freeze the stuffed shells – then you can have a delicious meal ready to go at a moment’s notice.
- It’s versatile. While this recipe is a classic ricotta cheese stuffed shells recipe, you could easily adapt it by adding chicken, spinach, seafood, or other ingredients to the cheese mixture.
Key ingredients and Substitutions
- Jumbo pasta shells – These typically come in a 12-ounce box and contain 44-46 dried pasta shells. For this recipe, we use 24 shells.
- Tomato sauce – Make our delicious homemade tomato sauce recipe or use your favorite jarred sauce for convenience. If you prefer, you can also make these stuffed shells with a meat sauce instead – either way is delicious!
- Ricotta cheese – We prefer a whole-milk Italian ricotta cheese for extra creaminess. (Some stuffed shell recipes substitute cottage cheese, but we don’t recommend it.)
- Other Cheeses – Our recipe also uses a combination of shredded mozzarella and grated Parmesan cheese.
- Eggs – Two whole eggs are needed to bind the filling.
- Herbs & Seasonings – The ricotta mixture is flavored with fresh basil, parsley and oregano, as well as kosher salt and black pepper. You can use dried herbs in a pinch, but fresh herbs are best.
Chef’s Tip –
Cook a few extra pasta shells to replace any that break during boiling.
Special supplies needed
- Pot to boil the pasta
- Sauté pan to make the homemade Italian tomato sauce
- Oven-safe baking dish or a round braiser like the ones in our photos
- Pastry bag (16-inch size recommended) with wide open round tip like this
- Parchment paper and foil, for baking – or if your braiser has a lid, use that.
Chef’s Tip –
The term al dente translates to “to the tooth” in Italian. When a recipe states to cook the pasta until ‘al dente’ – that means that the pasta should be firm when bitten and not overly soft.
In this recipe, the shells are slightly under cooked before filling, in part, because they will continue to cook as the stuffed shells bake. Additionally, the cooked but still firm shells will be easier to pipe with the cheese filling.
How to make Stuffed Shells
- Prepare the tomato sauce by following this recipe here. While the sauce simmers you can prepare the rest of this recipe.
- Boil the shells for eight minutes – one minute shy of al dente. Cool under cold water and drain.
- Fit a large pastry bag with a wide-open tip.
- Mix the ricotta with mozzarella, Parmesan, eggs, herbs and spices, then spoon it into the prepared pastry bag.
- Pipe each shell with about two ounces of filling each. (Divide the filling between the 24 cooked shells.) To check yourself, place a stuffed shell onto a kitchen scale and each one should be about 2 ½ ounces once filled. (See photos below.*)
- Spread two cups of sauce on the bottom of the baking dish and line up the stuffed shells, side by side. Sprinkle Parmesan over the top, then cover with parchment paper and then foil. (Or cover with lid if you have an oven-safe lid for your braiser.)
- Bake until hot and bubbly. Remove the parchment and foil, then broil to brown the top.
- Serve with more tomato sauce on the side.
Chef’s Tip –
Placing a layer of parchment paper underneath the foil will prevent the acid in the tomato sauce from interacting with the aluminum in the foil as it bakes.
*What is the best way to fill Stuffed Shells?
We use a pastry bag fitted with a wide open tip like this to fill our pasta shells. Spoon the ricotta cheese mixture into the pastry bag and twist the open end to securely closed. Then hold each pasta shell in your hand and fill them to the top.
Frequently asked Questions
Can I make Stuffed Shells ahead of time? Yes, you can fill and prepare the shells, then refrigerate and bake then when you are ready to eat. We suggest bringing the shells to room temperature before baking – take them out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before baking.
How do I store the leftovers? Cover and store refrigerated for up to three days.
Can I freeze Stuffed Shells? Yes, wrap tightly and freeze in the baking dish for up to two months. (Just make sure your baking dish is freezer-safe as well as oven-safe.) Cook or reheat from frozen – no need to thaw before baking, but note that the baking time will likely be longer.
What can I serve with Stuffed Shells?
Here are some ideas:
You might enjoy these other pasta recipes:
- Classic Lasagna
- Slow Cooker Creamy Tortellini and Sausage Soup
- Baked Rigatoni with Italian Sausage and Meatballs
- Fettuccine Alfredo
- Spinach Lasagna Rollups
4 cups tomato sauce, see our homemade sauce here or use jarred
24 jumbo pasta shells (typically come in a 12-ounce box with 44–46 count)
3 cups whole milk ricotta cheese (purchase a 32 ounce tub)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 1/4 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
2 whole eggs, beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped (or half that of dried)
If making the sauce, start that now and prepare the rest of this recipe while the sauce simmers.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Bring a medium pot of water to boil and add one teaspoon of kosher salt.
Gently drop in the 24 shells and cook for eight minutes. Immediately pour into a colander and back into the pot and cover with cold water then drain and hold. (Boil a few extra in case some break or split when boiling.)
Make the filling by whisking the ricotta, mozzarella, one cup of the Parmesan, the eggs, salt, pepper, basil, parsley and oregano.
Fit a 16-ounce pastry bag with a wide, opened tip (or if using disposable bags, you could just cut the plastic tip wide).
Fill the bag with some of the filling and begin squeezing filling into each shell. You will use two ounces of filling per shell, refilling bag as needed and using all of the filling. To check yourself, once filled, each shell should weigh 2 ½ ounces on a kitchen scale.
Place two cups of sauce into an appropriately sized baking dish (a 9×13 will work), and spread across the bottom.
Line up the stuffed shells over the sauce and sprinkle on the remaining quarter cup of Parmesan cheese. Cover with parchment and foil and bake for 20 minutes.
Remove parchment and foil then bake for up to 15 minutes more or until hot and bubbly and starting to brown.
Finish under the broiler for a few minutes to lightly brown the top then serve three shells per portion with additional sauce and Parmesan cheese over each portion.
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