Before I tell you how to stuff pasta shells for my stuffed shells recipe, I need to tell you about my Aunt Rita.
The way the Golden Girls turned to cheesecake, Aunt Rita turned to stuffed shells. She was a modern Italian woman, who prepared food like you might imagine an old nana in Italy. She took her time to get her recipe right and drew on her intuition instead of any recipe.
She knew exactly how much ricotta cheese needed to go into each shell and she never rushed the dish. Many friends were recipients of a dish of shells and it was one of the things people talked about with joy at her wake and funeral. The stuffed shells were more than a pasta dish; they were an offering of comfort and love.
Why are stuffed shells better than lasagna for a crowd?
We all love lasagna and it’s often the first dish we want to make when we are taking something to a party or delivering a meal. Reconsider why shells might be a better choice. Instead of worrying about cutting lasagna and having it stay intact, people can simply help themselves to stuffed shells taking as little or as many. Some may only want to sample one or two.
When I brought this big dish of stuffed shells to a gathering, not only did they love it, I heard a lot about how delicious the sauce was.
When I set out to make a dish of stuffed shells a few weeks back, I thought it was would be easier than it was. After all, I’m an expert at manicotti and lasagna. I quickly learned a few things of what to do and what not do as I figured out how to stuff pasta shells properly.
The first thing you need for a good stuffed shells recipe is good marinara sauce. I shared my grandmother’s simple, tomato sauce here and I do hope you make your own sauce, especially when you see how easy it is.
Ingredients for Stuffed Shells Recipe
- Pasta Shells
- Tomato Sauce
- Ricotta Cheese
- Mozzarella Cheese
- Pecorino Romano Cheese
- Salt, Pepper
What kind of cheese do you use for stuffed Shells Recipe?
There are three kinds of cheese used in this recipe. Ricotta cheese is the main cheese and I like the Polly O brand best as I don’t have to worry about it having too much liquid. You can place the ricotta on cheesecloth over a colander for about an hour to get rid of any extra liquid. I add in mozzarella and pecorino. I like the Pecorino Romano, a sheep’s cheese, for its tang and saltiness.
How to Stuff Pasta Shells: Use a Pastry Bag
Drain and cool shells before stuffing. I have found a pastry bag with an extra large circle piping tip works well for stuffing the shells.
There is NO EGG in this ricotta mixture. Taste before filling to make sure it has flavor.
It’s easier to fill all shells first before placing on tomato sauce.
Some ideas for stuffed Shells
- Add fresh Pesto spooned over shells before serving.
- Add fresh chopped spinach to ricotta filling.
How to Freeze Stuffed Shells
This is so good that I double the recipe and freeze a pan. If using a freezer to oven pan, put into oven frozen and add an extra twenty minutes baking time. Freeze some sauce separately to serve with shells.
Stuffed Shells Recipe
- 12 ounces Large Pasta Shells
- 1 cup Shredded mozzarella
- 3 cups Tomato sauce recipe here
- Parmesan or Pecorino Romano for serving
- 16 ounces Ricotta Cheese
- 1/2 cup flat Italian parsley chopped
- 1/2 cup Mozzarella Cheese shredded
- 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- dash freshly ground nutmeg
- Mix together all ingredients and refrigerate until needed.
- Make shells according to instructions minus one minute. Use plenty of water in pot. Add salt to water before putting shells in. Drain immediately. Allow to cool before filling.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. (190 C.)
- If you don't have a pastry bag, use a plastic baggie (food safe) and cut a hole in tip. Do not over-fill. You should be able to close the shell. If using pastry bag, only fill it half-way. You can also spoon in your ricotta cheese, using a small spoon.
- Once all the shells are filled, layer tomato sauce on a baking dish. Place each filled shell in pan. Cover with more sauce.
- Add mozzarella cheese.
- Cover completely with foil and bake for 30 minutes or until all cheese is melted. You can take off the foil and bake for another five minutes, but I cover with foil to keep the edges of shells from burning.
- Serve with parmesan cheese or pecorino romano.
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