Ricotta Stuffed shells are an easy and delicious dinner recipe. Four kinds of cheese including ricotta, mozzarella, mascarpone and parmesan are perfectly blended to make this a family favorite.
This easy Italian dinner recipe is the perfect comfort food!
Why You Will Love this Recipe
Stuffed jumbo shells with ricotta are one of my favorite pasta recipes.
- Easy to make: If you've struggled with recipes like stuffed shells or manicotti before, I have the right tips and tricks to make the process fun and easy. My recipe takes the mess out of dealing with the cheese filling and the shells end up perfectly cooked!
- Excellent flavor: Most recipes for ricotta stuffed shells don't use the same ingredients in their cheese mixture. By combining these four soft and shredded cheeses, you'll have an incredibly delicious and creamy cheese blend that tastes amazing.
- Easy to make ahead: Whenever I'm having company over, I love making recipes like this one. I prepare everything in the morning or the day before and then bake it before we're ready to sit down for dinner. Not only does it allow the flavors to develop, but it gives you time to clean up the kitchen! It also freezes well, so you can make one for dinner tonight and another one to stick in the freezer for a future busy weeknight.
- Jumbo pasta shells - these are found at most major grocery stores
- Eggs - they act as the binder for the cheese filling
- Cheese - I was low on ricotta cheese but I had mascarpone in the refrigerator. Boy was that a happy mistake. I loved the combination! Whole milk mozzarella and parmesan cheese are also used.
- Seasonings - Dried Italian seasoning, lots of fresh basil, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes for a small kick.
- Sauce - Two jars of your favorite pasta sauce.
How to Make Ricotta Stuffed Shells
If you are planning to serve this recipe on the same day you prepare it, preheat your oven.
Cook the shells al dente
Boil a large pot of salted water. Add the shells and only cook for a few minutes. Drain and set aside. This starts the cooking process and softens them enough to easily stuff, but they are still firm enough to not fall apart. I find that a short boil like that will also prevent them from sticking to each other. Do not rinse with cold water. Rinsing pasta washes away excess starch that actually helps the sauce stick to the pasta.
Mix the cheese filling
Combine the ricotta, mascarpone, half of the mozzarella, and half of the parmesan cheese in a large bowl. Reserve the remaining shredded cheeses for later. Mix in the eggs, herbs, garlic, salt, and a bit of red pepper flakes for some heat.
Fill the pasta shells
You can use a spoon or you can transfer the filling to a plastic bag, snip the corner off, and pipe the filling into the shells. Take care to stuff shells with the same amount of filling.
Place the stuffed shells into a large baking dish. You can also add a small amount of the sauce to the bottom of the casserole dish prior to adding the stuffed shells.
Smother them with pasta sauce, cover with the remaining shredded cheese, cover with aluminum foil, and bake.
The moisture from the sauce will finish cooking the pasta shells. When the shells are just about done, I like to remove the foil and let them continue cooking for a few more minutes to really melt the cheese.
This recipe is fantastic on its own, but there are a wide variety of modifications you can make to change it up.
- Stuffed shells with meat: If you wanted to add meat to your stuffed shells, people generally use ground beef, Italian sausage, or a combination of the two. To do this, you would simply cook the meat until crumbly in a large skillet over medium-high heat, allow it to mostly cool, and then mix it with the cheese filling before you fill the shells.
- Spinach Stuffed Pasta Shells: My preferred method is to use fresh pre-washed baby spinach. Chop it up really small and then mix it with the cheese filling prior to filling the shells. If using fresh spinach, cook the pasta even less because the spinach will release additional moisture that will help the pasta cook in the oven.
- Cheese substitutions: The ricotta mixture can be altered based on your preferences or what ingredients you have on hand. The types of cheese used can easily be modified. The mascarpone really makes this recipe stand out, but it can be replaced with more ricotta. You can also use cottage cheese to replace the mascarpone or part of the ricotta.
- Sauce: The amount of sauce you use can vary and depends on how saucy you want your stuffed shells recipe to be as well as how much you have on hand. You can substitute marinara sauce with canned tomato sauce, canned diced tomatoes, or a combination of both but you will need to add additional seasonings and perhaps a bit of olive oil to get the flavor and consistency right.
Make ahead directions
Italian recipes like this loaded with pasta, cheese and sauce are even better when prepared ahead of time. If you make this recipe the day before you're planning on baking it, or if you stick it in the freezer, you give everything even more time to let all that flavor absorb.
- To make ahead of time, simply prepare the entire recipe right up to the part where you place the prepared the stuffed shells into the oven.
- Cover and store them in the refrigerator if you're planning on cooking within the next couple of days. Otherwise, place them in the freezer for longer-term storage.
- Prior to cooking, bring the shells to room temperature before baking or increase the cooking time if the stuffed shells are cold or frozen when they go into the oven.
Storage and Reheating
Some may argue that ricotta stuffed shells taste even better the next day!
- Refrigerator: Place any leftovers in an airtight container or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3-5 days.
- Freezer: If freezing leftovers, place individual portions into a freezer bag, squeeze out all the air to prevent freezer burn, and freeze for 3-6 months. Fully thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours prior to reheating.
- Reheating: If using the microwave, stuffed shells do best when reheated at a lower power. This will melt the cheese and reheat the meal evenly. Alternatively, leftovers can be placed in a small dish, covered with foil, and reheated in a 300°F oven until heated through. The amount of time will depend on the portion size.
- 12 ounces jumbo pasta shells
- 2 eggs (slightly beaten)
- 16 ounces ricotta cheese
- 8 ounces mascarpone cheese
- 1 pound shredded mozzarella cheese (divided)
- 8 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (divided)
- 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
- 8 fresh basil leaves (minced)
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 56 ounces pasta sauce (two 28-ounce jars, can use less if jars are smaller)
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Boil pasta: Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for only 3-4 minutes and then drain. You want to start the cooking process, but you need them firm enough to stuff. They will continue cooking in the oven.
- Mix cheeses: In a large bowl, mix eggs, ricotta, mascarpone, half the mozzarella, half the Parmesan, Italian seasoning, basil, garlic, salt and red pepper flakes until well combined.
- Fill pasta shells: Add ricotta mixture to a resealable plastic bag or a piping bag. Snip the corner off. Fill each par cooked shell with the cheese filling. Place stuffed shells in a 9x13 inch baking dish.
- Add remaining ingredients: Cover shells with pasta sauce and then top with remaining shredded cheese. Cover with foil.
- Bake: Cook covered stuffed shells in preheated oven for 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue cooking for another 5-15 minutes until edges are bubbly and cheese is melted. Best results if you let stand for 15 minutes before serving.
This recipe was originally published in June 2019 and has been updated with helpful information, ingredient and process photos, as well as recipe tips. Don't worry - the recipe hasn't changed!