Easy, cheesy Stuffed Shells (with a secret ingredient in the filling!!) that can be assembled and in the oven in a matter of minutes. This easy dinner recipe is incidentally vegetarian and made with the option to use homemade or jarred sauce (if you’re in a hurry!). Less than 20 minutes of prep!
Easy Comfort Food
I would’ve shared these Stuffed Shells with you weeks ago if they were only prettier.
I don’t think I’ve ever had as much trouble photographing a recipe as I did here! In addition to all of the recipe testing, I made this recipe three separate times just trying to get pretty, or at least appetizing, photos!
The sad truth is that stuffed shells simply aren’t very pretty. You’d think they might be, those beautiful, jumbo, yellow-gold shells encasing a velvety, cheesy filling, but no. Once you top them off with a layer of marinara sauce, the flavor is improved but the appearance… not so much. I even considered cooking them a different way (sauce underneath, not on top) simply so I could get a respectable picture.
Ultimately I opted against sacrificing taste for appearance (obviously) and have resigned myself to the fact that these shells just need to be shown a they are. Maybe they look a little sauce stained and messy, but taste-wise they’re sheer perfection.
Let’s Talk Sauce
You can use a store-bought pasta sauce for this recipe if you’re in a pinch, otherwise I really, really recommend you make my homemade marinara sauce.
Stuffed Shells are a great vegetarian option but if you want a meatier version you can use the sauce from my baked ziti recipe instead.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a perfect stuffed shell dinner pairing, can I recommend whipping up a batch of my garlic knots?
The Secret Ingredient
Did you catch that secret ingredient up there in my mixing bowl?
Four ounces of cream cheese! While you might think that a half brick of cream cheese stirred in along with three other cheeses (mozzarella, parmesan, ricotta) seems excessive, I guarantee you it is so worth it. And besides, we’re cutting back a bit on the other cheeses to compensate for this addition.
If you’re a cream cheese hater, I want to let you know that I have two siblings who hate cream cheese. And yet when they tried the stuffed shells, they loved them and could not detect so much as a whiff of distinct cream cheese flavor. And they requested seconds!
Maybe you’re wondering: if no one could tell there was cream cheese, then why add it? I promise I’m not just out to make you spend more money at the grocery store. While the cream cheese doesn’t have an overpowering or distinct taste, it lends a smooth, velvety creaminess to the filling, a subtle depth of rich flavor. I’ve tried these stuffed shells both ways (with and without), and they just taste so much better with the cream cheese.
How to Make Stuffed Shells
- Cook shells one minute shy of package instructions (so they don’t fall apart when you’re stuffing them), drain and arrange on a baking sheet so they don’t stick together.
- Prepare the cheese filling by mixing together cheeses, egg, parsley, oregano, salt, pepper, and garlic.
- Spoon filling into each shell.
- To assemble, lightly butter a 9×13 casserole dish and then layer a small amount of sauce on the bottom of the dish. Arrange shells in rows in casserole dish, then top off with remaining marinara sauce and extra cheese. Bake (covered, then uncovered for the last 10 minutes) and enjoy!
Making in Advance and Refrigerating
To store this (uncooked) stuffed shell recipe in the refrigerator, prepare according to recipe instructions then cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap or foil. You may refrigerate for up to three days before baking according to recipe instructions.
Can You Freeze Before Baking?
You can definitely freeze stuffed shells, and I recommend doing so before you bake them (rather than after). You can freeze one of two ways:
- Boil and stuff each shell, place on a wax paper lined baking sheet and transfer to the freezer. Freeze shells for about 30 minutes, then remove. Place frozen shells in an airtight container like a Ziploc bag (because they are frozen, you won’t have to worry about them smashing one another or freezing into one another). Freeze for up to several months. When ready to bake, follow the recipe instructions for preparing the pan/covering the shells with sauce and cheese, and bake as indicated. Frozen shells may require an extra minute or two in the oven.
- Prepare the entire casserole dish as indicated in the recipe, but don’t bake! Cover dish tightly with plastic wrap and foil so that it is airtight. Freeze for up to several months. Allow casserole dish to thaw overnight in the refrigerator before baking. Keep in mind you should not put a freezing cold glass/ceramic dish in the oven — the temperature change will cause it to crack!
Other Recipes You Might Like:
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- 20 jumbo shells¹
- 3 cups marinara sauce² (719ml)
- 15 oz ricotta cheese (425g)
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese divided (226g)
- ⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese plus additional for topping, if desired (60g)
- 4 oz cream cheese softened (113g)
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
- 2 Tablespoons fresh parsley finely chopped (or 2 teaspoons dried)
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano optional
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon ground pepper
- 1 large garlic clove pressed
- Preheat oven to 350F (175C)
- Prepare Shells according to package instructions, but boiling one minute less than instructed on package. Drain, allow to cool several minutes, then separate and place on a baking sheet while you prepare your filling. While the shells are boiling, I’ll usually start preparing my pan and making my filling:
- Lightly butter the sides and bottom of a 9x13 casserole dish. Layer with several spoonfuls of marinara sauce (just enough to lightly coat the bottom).
- Prepare filling by stirring together ricotta cheese, 1 ½ cups mozzarella cheese (170g), ⅓ cup parmesan, cream cheese, egg, parsley, garlic, oregano, salt, and ground pepper until well-combined.
- Portion into prepared shells by heaping spoonful.
- Evenly spoon remaining marinara sauce over stuffed shells. Top with remaining ½ cup mozzarella cheese (56g) and a sprinkle of grated parmesan (if desired).
- Lightly spray one side of a piece of foil with cooking spray and loosely place foil (spray side down) over stuffed shells. Transfer to 350F (175C) oven and bake for 20 minutes, covered, then remove foil and continue to bake an additional 5-10 minutes.
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered an estimate only. Actual nutritional content will vary based upon brands used, measuring methods, cooking method, portion sizes, and more.
Recipe originally published Feb 27th, 2019