Cheese/ Hearty Dinners/ Pasta

Stuffed Pasta Shells

November 13, 2020 by Chris Collins

These Pasta Shells are stuffed with four different cheeses, then baked in an easy and delicious tomato and basil sauce!

There’s so many different ways to stuff pasta shells, be it with chicken, sausage, bolognese, or the classic spinach and ricotta. I like to do mine a little different, but I am going to go on record and say these will be the best pasta shells you’ll ever make. There, I said it. It’s all down hill from here 🤣 Just kidding. Follow me…

overhead shot of shells fresh out the oven with serving spoon digging in

Four Cheese Stuffed Shells

Oh c’mon, you know we don’t do things by usual quantities on this blog 😂 Truth be told I tested this recipe more times than I care to admit. In the end I settled on 4 cheeses. I truly believe this filling gives you the dreamiest, creamiest result.

What Cheese to stuff shells with?

  • Ricotta – Ricotta is the classic, but I found too much results in a spongey texture. Some ricotta works great as it holds the fillings shape, but for optimum results you want to mix it with a smoother, creamier cheese.
  • Mascarpone – Adding mascarpone into the filling adds a gorgeous creaminess. It soothes out the filling nicely to the point where it turns buttery & soft, but not so much it spills out in the oven as it bakes.
  • Mozzarella – Mozzarella also has a nice creamy flavour, but also gives you that oozy, cheesy texture as you bite into the pasta shell.
  • Parmesan – This gives you the punch of flavour. I add this to the filling and sprinkle on top before baking.

How to stuff pasta shells?

The easiest and most effective way is to use a piping bag. I have tried just scooping the cheese filling into the shells with a spoon, but it just gets too messy and you can’t stuff as much filling in. If you don’t have a piping bag you can use a zip lock bag and just cut the corner off.

Process shots: add cheese, egg and salt & pepper to a mixing bowl (photo 1), stir to combine (photo 2), open piping or zip lock bag (photo 3), add cheese mixture (photo 4), cook pasta shells until al dente (photo 5), pipe filling into shells (photo 6).

6 step by step photos showing how to stuff pasta shells

Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce

This recipe does take a little extra time to prep in comparison to other pasta dishes, so I try to keep the sauce fairly simple. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Tomato Passata – This is essentially pureed/sieved tomatoes. It works great because it’s got an ultra smooth texture, which wraps nicely around the shells as they bake.
  • Onion & Garlic – Adds the base flavour for the sauce.
  • Fresh Basil – And lots of it! I normally use 1oz/30g. Must be fresh, don’t sub fry for this recipe.
  • Sugar, Salt & Pepper – All to taste.
  • Chilli Flakes – Optional, but does add a very gentle background heat to the sauce.

Can I make the sauce ahead of time?

Yup! If you want to get ahead of the game just simmer the sauce, allow to completely cool then tightly store in the fridge until needed.

Process shots: fry onion in oil (photo 1), add garlic (photo 2), pour in passata and add basil & seasoning (photo 3), simmer until thickened (photo 4).

4 step by step photos showing how to make tomato basil pasta sauce

Baked Pasta Shells

Personal preference here, but I hate it when there’s not enough sauce for stuffed shells. Nothing worse than when the pasta dries up in the oven because there’s no sauce coating it. You want the sauce to come close to the top of the shells before they get in the oven. This way the shells will stay nice and soft as they bake.

Pine Nuts

An absolutely game-changing ingredient to add before baking is lightly crushed pine nuts. These not only add a gorgeous nutty flavour, but the texture works so well with the crispy parmesan and offsets the soft, creamy texture of the shells. To lightly crush the pine nuts I usually use a pestle and mortar, but you can whack them in a zip lock bag with a rolling pin. For allergy reasons you can leave these out, still delicious without!

Can I prep the whole thing ahead of time?

You can, it’s just important to let the sauce completely cool before you add the shells, otherwise they’ll cook and become too soft as they rest.

Process shots: pour sauce into baking dish (photo 1), add shells (photo 2), sprinkle with parmesan (photo 3), top with crushed pine nuts (photo 4), bake until golden crispy (photo 5).

5 step by step photos showing how to make stuffed pasta shells

Serving Stuffed Pasta Shells

This recipe makes 20 shells, which will feed 4-5 people. They are quite hearty, but you can add a small side salad and/or garlic bread if you fancy!

If you’re after another 4 cheese recipe check out my Four Cheese Pasta!

For more similar recipes check out these beauties too:

Alrighty, let’s tuck into the full recipe for these baked shells shall we?!

overhead shot of 5 stuffed shells of plate with garlic bread and rocket

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How to make Stuffed Pasta Shells (Full Recipe & Video)

overhead shot of shells fresh out the oven with serving spoon digging in

Next Level Stuffed Pasta Shells

These Pasta Shells are stuffed with four different cheeses, then baked in an easy and delicious tomato and basil sauce!
Print Pin Rate
Course: Dinner / Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings (click & slide): 4
Calories: 804kcal
Cost per serving: £3 / $4

Equipment:

  • 9x13" Baking Dish (to bake)
  • Large Pan or Pot & Wooden Spoon (for sauce)
  • Large Pot & Colander (for pasta)
  • Piping Bag or Zip Lock Bag & Scissors (to pipe cheese)
  • Medium Sized Mixing Bowl & Spatula (for cheese mix)
  • Sharp Knife & Chopping Board

Ingredients (check list):

Cheese Stuffed Shells

  • 20 Jumbo Pasta Shells/Large Conchiglioni (approx 7oz/200g)
  • 7oz / 200g Ricotta
  • 7oz / 200g Mascarpone
  • 1 cup / 100g Mozzarella, shredded
  • 1 1/4 cups / 100g freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/3 cup / 50g Pine Nuts, lightly crushed (see notes)
  • 1 large Egg, beaten
  • Salt & Black Pepper, to taste
  • Oil Spray

Tomato Basil Sauce

  • 4 cups / 1 litre/kg Tomato Passata (pureed/strained tomatoes in US)
  • 1 small bunch of Fresh Basil, finely diced (approx 1oz/30g)
  • 1 medium Onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves of Garlic, finely diced/minced
  • 1/2 tsp Sugar
  • 1/4 tsp Chilli Flakes, or to taste (optional)
  • Salt & Black Pepper, to taste
  • Olive Oil, as needed

Instructions:

  • In a large pot or pan add a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat. Add in onion and fry until it begins to soften & brown, then add in garlic and fry for 1-2mins longer. Pour in tomato passata and add basil, chilli flakes, sugar and salt & pepper. Give a good stir then reduce to a simmer for 20-25mins until it begins to thicken. This is also important to marry the flavours together.
  • Pop the pasta shells in salted boiling water and cook until al dente. Knock a couple of mins off of the packet instructions, you want them soft enough to handle, but not completely cooked through or they'll come out sloppy once baked. Drain and place to one side.
  • Meanwhile, in a medium sized mixing bowl add ricotta, mascarpone, mozzarella, 1 cup/80g parmesan (save the rest to top) and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Stir through beaten egg until smooth and evenly combined. Place cheese mixture in a piping bag or zip lock bag with the corner cut off.
  • Once the pasta shells are cool enough to handle, one by one squeeze the cheese mixture into the shells. Pour tomato basil sauce into a 9x13" baking dish, then add the stuffed shells to the sauce.
  • Sprinkle the shells with parmesan, then crumble over crushed pine nuts. Give the whole thing a light covering of oil spray then pop in the oven at 180C/356F for 20-30mins, or until the cheese is golden and crispy.

Quick 1 min demo!

Notes:

a) Pine Nuts - These add a gorgeous crunch and a light nutty flavour. To crush them I usually use a pestle and mortar, but you could also pop in a zip lock bag and crush them with a mallet/rolling pin. You can leave these out for allergy reasons, still delicious without!
b) Can I prep this ahead of time? - You can make the sauce ahead of time, just allow to cool then tightly cover in the fridge for 3-4days. Or you can make the whole thing up until baking (leave off parmesan, pine nuts & oil). Ensure you allow the sauce to completely cool before adding the pasta though, otherwise it'll cook the pasta as it rests and it'll be too soft when you bake. Just construct and tightly cover in the fridge overnight, then add toppings and bake as instructed.
c) Serving - This will feed 4 - 5 people (4-5 shells each). They are pretty hearty, but if you're feeding 5 consider a little side salad and/or garlic bread!
d) Calories - based on the whole thing divided by 4 people, using 1/2 tbsp olive oil to fry.

Nutrition:

Nutrition Facts
Next Level Stuffed Pasta Shells
Amount Per Serving
Calories 804 Calories from Fat 441
% Daily Value*
Fat 49.04g75%
Saturated Fat 23.212g116%
Trans Fat 0.275g
Polyunsaturated Fat 6.279g
Monounsaturated Fat 14.725g
Cholesterol 274mg91%
Sodium 1302mg54%
Potassium 961mg27%
Carbohydrates 61.66g21%
Fiber 11.1g44%
Sugar 10.62g12%
Protein 34.18g68%
Vitamin A 2729IU55%
Vitamin C 33.9mg41%
Calcium 660mg66%
Iron 4.44mg25%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Nutrition is based on the absence of salt unless stated as a measurement in the ingredients. Cost is worked out based on ingredients bought from UK supermarkets, then divided by the number of servings. In both instances these values are just for guidance. Please check out my FAQ Page for more info.
Tried this recipe?Show me how you got on by tagging @dontgobaconmyheart_ on IG and #dontgobaconmyheart!

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