Stuffed Shells with Meat
This cozy Stuffed Shells with Meat recipe is packed with flavor. Featuring pasta, ground beef, marinara, pesto, and plenty of melty, gooey cheese – this hearty comfort dish is a family favorite. It’s a great make-ahead option for busy nights and entertaining, and it makes the best leftovers!
The Best Stuffed Shells With Meat
We woke up this morning to a blanket of fresh snow, the first of the season…perfect timing for this cozy meal of Stuffed Shells with Meat!
My family is extra quick to the table whenever I’m serving up a dish of pasta with red sauce, meat, and cheese – it’s one of the best comfort food combinations. Much like my classic lasagna, skillet lasagna, and my famous lasagna soup, this stuffed shells recipe is hearty and richly flavored and irresistibly cheesy. You’re gonna love it!
Why You’ll Love This Easy Stuffed Shells Recipe
From the melty, gooey cheese to the hearty beef and pasta, this dish has a lot going for it. Here’s why you’ll love it:
- Hearty and filling. When you serve stuffed shells with ricotta and meat, you can be certain that it’s a hearty dish and will leave everyone feeling satisfied.
- Super flavorful. Zesty marinara, garlicky basil pesto, savory meat, and the deliciousness of cheese – yes, these shells are packed with flavor!
- Easy ingredients list. You don’t need anything fancy to make this stuffed shells recipe. You can also make some tweaks to the filling if you want (I’ve included some suggestions below), like adding in vegetables or using a different protein.
- Perfect for making in advance. If you like to prepare dishes ahead of time, this recipe works great!
What You’ll Need
Here’s a list of the ingredients you’ll need to make this stuffed shells recipe.
Scroll down to the printable recipe card at the end of this post for the exact ingredient amounts.
- Jumbo shells – Jumbo shells are very large pasta shells that can hold a lot of filling.
- Olive oil
- Yellow onion – To add extra earthy flavor.
- Ground beef – This protein adds heartiness and rich flavor.
- Garlic powder – A touch of garlic powder complements the onion and flavors the meat.
- Salt & pepper
- Ricotta cheese – Creamy ricotta is essential for the delicious cheesy filling.
- Italian cheese blend – Or you can use shredded mozzarella cheese.
- Parmesan cheese – To add delicious saltiness and more gooey texture.
- Eggs – This recipe calls for 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk. They act as a binder for the cheesy filling, plus add rich flavor and texture.
- Pesto – Basil pesto sauce balances the red sauce – it adds lots of wonderful flavor!
- Basil – Fresh basil leaves add freshness, plus they make a pretty garnish when serving.
- Marinara – You can use your favorite jar of marinara or make it from scratch.
This recipe is easily adaptable, to whatever your heart desires! Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Add spinach. To add spinach to your ground shells with meat, chop up about 4 cups of spinach leaves. Stir the spinach into the filling along with the ricotta cheese.
- Add bell peppers. To include more veggies, dice up some bell peppers and sauté them along with the onion.
- Use a different protein. We love Italian sausage, which would be my first choice in swapping out the ground beef. You could also use ground turkey or ground chicken, or plain sausage or chicken sausage in place of ground beef.
- Make these vegetarian. If you prefer, you can make these shells vegetarian. You can substitute ground vegetarian meat or you can omit the meat completely. In that case, I’d definitely recommend adding in more vegetables.
- Make it spicy! If you like heat, try using a spicy marinara and/or spicy Italian sausage. You could also throw in dried red pepper flakes!
How To Make Stuffed Shells with Meat
Follow along with the photos below for making this stuffed shells recipe.
- Prep. Preheat your oven to 350° F and lightly spray a 9″ x13″ baking dish.
- Cook the pasta. Cook the jumbo pasta shells according to the package instructions, until they are al dente. Drain and set aside to cool.
- Cook the beef mixture. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the diced onion and sauté 3-4 minutes, just until softened. Then add the ground beef, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper. Cook 8-9 minutes, breaking up the beef, until it is browned and fully cooked through. Drain any excess fat from the skillet, then let beef cool slightly before adding it to the filling.
- Make the cheesy beef filling. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, 1½ cups of the shredded Italian cheese, Parmesan cheese, egg and egg yolk, pesto, chopped basil, salt, and pepper. Fold in half the beef mixture until everything is thoroughly combined. Set aside.
- Make the meat sauce. Stir the marinara sauce into the remaining beef mixture, right in the skillet. Season with salt and black pepper, if desired. Set aside.
- Spread meat sauce in baking dish. Spread half of the meaty marinara sauce over the bottom of the prepared baking dish.
- Stuff the shells. Stuff each cooked pasta shell with a generous spoonful of the cheesy beef mixture. Place the stuffed shells in the baking dish, arranging them in a single layer.
- Top with sauce and cheese. Pour the remaining marinara over the stuffed shells. Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup of shredded Italian cheese blend over the top.
- Bake. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly
- Let rest, garnish, and serve. Once cooked, remove the stuffed shells from the oven and let them rest for a few minutes. Then garnish with fresh basil leaves right before serving.
Tips for Success + Variations
Stuffed shells with meat are not difficult to make! Here are a few tips to guide you while you make this recipe:
- Do not overcook the pasta. The shells will continue to cook when they’re stuffed and baked in the oven, so take care to not overcook the pasta shells when you first boil them.
- Cook a few extra shells. You can make a few extra shells in case any of the shells tear while you’re stuffing them, or if you have extra filling (then you’ll be prepared with a backup!).
- Make your own sauce. Jarred marinara is a great easy option, but you can definitely use your own favorite homemade sauce.
- Assemble the stuffed shells in advance. You can put together stuffed shells with meat up to 8 hours before you plan to bake it. Cover the dish with foil and store it in the fridge until you’re ready to bake it – just let it set out on the counter for 30 minutes to take the chill off, before putting it in the oven.
Stuffed shells is a delicious hearty dish. I like to serve it with a fresh salad or some vegetables to finish off dinner, plus a zesty glass of red wine. I’ve compiled a few of my favorite side dishes for stuffed shells with meat below:
- Salad. A rich meal like stuffed shells with meat absolutely welcomes a fresh salad to balance out the plate. My arugula beet salad, winter apple salad, or broccoli salad recipes are a nice fit. And, of course, my Italian chopped salad!
- A green vegetable. In addition to or instead of a salad, serve a green vegetable with your stuffed shells! Roasted asparagus or grilled asparagus is always a good choice.
- Bread. A side of garlic bread to soak up any leftover sauce? Yes, please! My cheesy homemade garlic bread is so good served alongside these stuffed shells with meat. Texas toast is another great, super easy option.
- With an Italian cocktail. Offer a pre-dinner blood orange amaretto sour cocktail, or finish your meal with a little glass of limoncello!
How to Store & Reheat Leftovers
Store any leftover cooled stuffed shells in an airtight container in the fridge or tightly covered with foil in the pan.
You can reheat the entire pan in the oven on low heat until heated through, or place individual portions on a microwave-safe plate and reheat in the microwave until hot.
Can You Freeze Stuffed Shells With Ricotta and Meat?
Yes! Stuffed shells with meat freeze well.
To freeze prepared shells prior to baking: Prepare the shells up to the point of stuffing them. Then place the stuffed shells on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze them long enough to harden a bit, which will keep them from sticking together in the freezer. When the shells are slightly frozen, transfer them to a freezer-safe container or baking dish and cover them with foil or plastic wrap, and top with the lid. You can also freeze the marinara in a separate freezer-safe container. Store both in the freezer for up to 3 months.
When you’re ready to bake the shells, thaw them in the fridge overnight or bake them from frozen. Place the shells in a baking pan with sauce, as instructed in the recipe, and proceed with the recipe from that point.
To freeze already-baked portions (leftovers): Simply place the cooled, baked leftovers in a freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 3 months. To heat, let thaw in the fridge, then place in an oven-safe dish and heat at 300° F, or gently in the microwave until warmed through.
- 6 ounces jumbo pasta shells
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ of a large yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 pound ground beef
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1½ teaspoons Morton kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 16 ounces ricotta cheese
- 2 cups shredded Italian cheese blend, divided
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
- ⅓ cup basil pesto
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped basil leaves
- 26 ounces marinara, divided
- Fresh basil for garnish
- Preheat oven to 350° F and lightly spray a 9" x13" baking dish.
- Cook the jumbo pasta shells according to the package instructions, until al dente. Drain and set aside to cool.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat, then add the olive oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add the diced onion and sauté 3-4 minutes, just until softened. Then, add ground beef with garlic powder, salt, and black pepper. Cook 8-9 minutes, breaking up the beef, until it is browned and fully cooked through. Drain any excess fat from the skillet, then let beef cool slightly before adding it to the filling.
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, 1½ cups of the shredded Italian cheese, Parmesan cheese, egg and egg yolk, pesto, chopped basil, salt, and black pepper. Fold in the beef mixture until everything is thoroughly combined. Set aside.
- Stir the marinara into the remaining beef mixture, right in the skillet. Season with salt and black pepper, if desired. Set aside.
- Spread half of the marinara mixture in an even layer on the bottom of the prepared baking dish.
- Stuff each cooked pasta shell with a generous spoonful of the ricotta mixture. Place the stuffed shells in the baking dish, arranging them in a single layer.
- Spoon the remaining marinara mixture over the stuffed shells. Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup of shredded Italian cheese over the top.
- Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
- Remove the stuffed shells from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Garnish with fresh basil leaves right before serving.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 735Total Fat: 47gSaturated Fat: 19gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 23gCholesterol: 229mgSodium: 1470mgCarbohydrates: 29gFiber: 4gSugar: 9gProtein: 48g
Nutrition information is automatically calculated by Nutritionix. I am not a nutritionist and cannot guarantee accuracy. If your health depends on nutrition information, please calculate again with your own favorite calculator.