Three Cheese Stuffed Shells
This easy three cheese stuffed shells recipe features jumbo pasta shells filled with creamy ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan cheeses, then baked in a simple tomato basil sauce. It’s the perfect comfort meal that feeds a crowd!
Though this easy meal will never be as popular as mac and cheese, stuffed shells are one of the best comfort foods ever, if you ask me.
You’ve got a creamy basil ricotta cheese mixture enclosed in ridged shell pasta, and covered in tomato sauce, dots of fresh mozzarella cheese, and aged parmesan, and baked until bubbling.
What’s especially nice about this recipe is it makes a big batch of food, and the leftovers keep well.
I love my fresh “make it and it’s gone meals,” like a fresh Cobb Salad or Pan Seared Steak, but those types of dishes are typically best eaten right after they’re cooked, and they may not scale well.
So I also like to make big batch leftover meals where you can make a large quantity that lasts for days. This fits the bill!
This stuffed shells recipe arguably tastes even better the next day, and microwaves beautifully! Good leftovers are the best.
Step by Step Overview:
Start by mixing together your filling in a large bowl. Combine ricotta cheese (whole milk preferred), shredded mozzarella cheese, grated parmigiano reggiano, large eggs, fresh basil, kosher salt, and black pepper:
Be Choosy About the Ricotta
Before I go on with the recipe, I will say that the kind of ricotta you use here is SO important.
In my experience, the mainstream ricottas that have stabilizer ingredients like Carageenan, Xanthan Gum, Guar Gum, and Locust Bean Gum typically taste terrible and don’t hold up well with cooking. The gums are there to keep the moisture from separating out on the shelf, but often when cooked in the oven, these stabilized ricottas separate and you get pools of liquid and grainy cheese. When purchasing ricotta, I look to see that the ingredients are simple: dairy, enzymes, salt.
My ultimate favorite choice is the basket ricotta made by Bellwether Farms. I buy it from Whole Foods.
Next, parboil some jumbo shells for 2 minutes less than the package directions state. This is important for keeping the pasta al dente, instead of overcooked and mushy.
Place your favorite red tomato sauce in the bottom of a baking dish, then spoon the cheese filling into each shell:
While you may make your own homemade sauce (I recommend this Life-changing Tomato Sauce from Marcella Hazan), I now prefer to buy the sauce. Rao’s marinara sauce is my favorite and tastes incredible.
Nestle the shells snuggly in the dish with the red sauce:
Then, pour more pasta sauce on top, and top it with torn pieces of fresh mozzarella, and freshly grated parmesan cheese:
Bake in the oven until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese has melted. Cooking time will be around 30 to 40 minutes.
Then, I love to drizzle with a really good extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil leaves. Enjoy!
What to Serve with This Recipe
Because it’s a heavier dish, I like to serve it with something light, like Salad, Cauliflower Rice, or this brothy Sausage Kale Soup.
However, garlic bread is a classic choice for pairing as well.
Meat – If you’d like to add meat to the dish, I recommend ground beef and/or Italian sausage. Brown the meat crumbles in a large skillet over medium-high heat for 5-8 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through. Then cool slightly and add to the ricotta mixture before filing the shells.
More seasoning – The only seasonings I add here are salt and black pepper. I like to appreciate the flavors of the ricotta and tomato sauce. However, you may add any seasonings you enjoy, like one teaspoon of Italian seasoning, or 1/2 teaspoon each of garlic powder and onion powder.
More fresh herbs – Basil is essential here, but you may add more herbs if you wish, such as fresh parsley, oregano, or thyme.
Different cheeses – There are many kinds of cheese you can use here. Whole milk ricotta is essential as the base, but you can switch the parmesan cheese for other sharp and nutty cheeses. Asiago cheeses or pecorino romano work well. You can also swap out half the ricotta for cottage cheese.
Recipe FAQ and Tips
Yes, but you want to bake it completely first. Let cool, then freeze for up to two months. Thaw before reheating.
Yes, but you want to make sure you don’t add the tomato sauce, or else it will break down the pasta. Parcook and stuff all the shells, and refrigerate up to 1 day. Then add the tomato sauce before baking.
Leftovers will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days. Either transfer to an airtight container or cover the dish well with plastic wrap.
More comforting big batch meals:
For more pasta recipes, try Spaghetti Carbonara, Easy Homemade Lasagna, or Linguine alle Vongole.
Did you enjoy the recipe? Please leave a 5-star rating in the recipe card below and/or a review in the comments section further down the page.
Three Cheese Stuffed Shells
- 12 oz package jumbo shells
- 1 lb fresh mozzarella cheese
- 32 oz tub whole milk ricotta*
- 1/4 pound parmesan cheese grated**
- 1/4 cup chopped basil
- salt and pepper
- 2 eggs
- 4 cups prepared tomato sauce (I love Rao’s)
- extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Bring a big pot of water to a boil, and add a few large pinches of salt. The water should taste salty, like the ocean.
- Add the jumbo shells and cook for 2 minutes less than the package states (I cooked mine for 10 minutes instead of 12). Drain and rinse with cool water.
- To make the filling, start by shredding about 1/2 of the mozzarella cheese (the rest will be used to scatter on top of the dish). Combine the mozzarella with the ricotta, parmesan, and basil, and stir well.
- Season this mixture to taste with salt and pepper, then add in the eggs. Beat this mixture for a minute or two until it has a light, whipped texture.
- Grab an 8×12 baking dish, as well as an 8×8. Add 1 cup of sauce to the bottom of each.
- Take your shells and place a spoonful of cheese filling into each shell, and place it into the pan, with the open side facing downward. Line the shells up snugly as you fill all of the shells, then top each pan with 1 more cup of sauce.
- Dot the top with torn hunks of mozzarella cheese, and if desired, add a little more grated parmesan on top.
- Cover each pan with aluminum foil and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese has melted.
- To serve, you may garnish with fresh basil or drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, if desired. Enjoy!
Nutrition is estimated using a food database and is only intended to be used as a guideline for informational purposes.
Post updated in June 2018 with more photos and writing. Originally published in June 2014.
34 Comments on “Three Cheese Stuffed Shells”
Looks very good, very similar to how my grandmother taught me. One of the few recipes for this classic dish (my Italian family and I have made for years) that correctly shows the shells placed SEAM SIDE DOWN. If you place it seam side up, more than likely much of the cheese will run out of the shells and all over your baking dish (I know because I made the error once or twice while in a rush). A word to the wise – heed this advice!
Gie me all the cheese! What a great comfort food meal!