Italian Stuffed Shells

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This is Italian comfort food at its best.  No doubt about it.

We love this dish so much. Literally exploding with flavor and they come together and are on the table in about an hour! And going with chicken for the protein is healthier but still off-the-charts delicious. Perfect for weeknights, but also a wonderful dinner party dish, too. The homemade marinara puts it over the top and can be made well in advance. 

Baked stuffed shells

How To Make Italian Stuffed Shells

We just can’t rave enough about this stuffed shells recipe.

Loaded with flavor and honestly so easy to prepare.

 

The Ingredients You Will Need

The components of this pasta dish are simple and straightforward.

There are so many different types of pasta, but we love large shells because they actually become the vessel for the sauce and cheese!  We think chicken stuffed shells are so delicious, and healthier, too, but you could certainly go with pork. and have great flavor.

EXPERT TIP: Chicken Italian sausage can be often be found fresh in the meat department of many well-stocked supermarkets or from your local butcher. Make sure the chicken is uncooked (not cured, or cooked). If going with chicken or pork, simply use a knife to cut a strip down the side of the sausage link, and then remove the casing with your fingers and crumble the meat into your skillet. 

Fresh herbs deeply round out the flavor of the meat mixture. We use a combination of fresh basil, parsley, and rosemary. If going with dried herbs, only use 1 tsp of each.

A hand dumping freshly chopped herbs from a small bowl into a large skillet filled with cooked chicken sausage.

Choosing the Right Type of Cheese

Ricotta stuffed shells are a very popular no-meat version.

We absolutely love good creamy ricotta cheese, but why stop there?

EXPERT TIP: After mixing the ricotta cheese with an egg, we recommend mixing in 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese and 1 cup of shredded mozzarella. We have tested our stuffed pasta shells with smoked mozzarella. The taste is really delicious, but distinct. If you want to try it, we suggest going with ½-cup smoked mozzarella and ½-cup whole-milk mozzarella. If you are a big fan of the smoked variety, go with all smoked mozzarella!

A person using two hands to dump shredded mozzarella in a small bowl in one hand and grated parmesan from a bowl in the other hand into a bowl of ricotta.

It’s important to allow the meat mixture to cool before adding in the cheese mixture.

After the chicken filling is fully cooked, we recommend transferring it to a medium-sized bowl and place in the refrigerator while you’re making the cheese mixture.

EXPERT TIP: Both the meat and cheese mixtures can be made up to 24 hours in advance. If not making in advance, allow the meat mixture to cool for at least 20 minutes in the fridge. Give it a stir every now and then to help expedite the cooling process.

A person using a large wooden spoon to stir together a cooked chicken mixture in a glass bowl with a ricotta and mozzarella mixture.

How To Stuff the Shells

The jumbo shells can be cooked an hour in advance. Simply transfer them to a large bowl and gently coat them with about 1 tbsp of olive oil.

This recipe will fill approximately 16 shells.

EXPERT TIP: Once the meat and cheese mixtures have been fully combined, simply use a large spoon to scoop the filling inside the shells. Use your fingers to help hold open the shell as you fill them. Compact the filling with your fingers or the back of the spoon. We like to pile it enough so the filling reaches about ½-inch above the top of the shell.

A person using a large spoon to add a cheese and cooked sausage into a jumbo shell.

We strongly feel that homemade marinara puts this dish over top. Of course, a good-quality store-bought marinara sauce will work just fine, too.

You’ll need a layer of marinara in the bottom of the baking dish, and then about a tablespoon on top of each stuffed shell.

A sprinkle of grated parmesan is the perfect topping just before baking.

A hand sprinkling grated Parmesan cheese over the tops of uncooked stuffed shells in a white baking dish.

Baking is quick and easy.

Cover the shells loosely with foil and then place in your oven preheated to 400°F.

After 12 minutes of baking, remove the foil and bake for another 10 to 12 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese on top has just started to brown ever-so-slightly.

An oval white baking dish filled with cooked Italian stuffed shells all sitting on a layer of marinara sauce.

When To Serve Italian Stuffed Shells

These stuffed shells with meat can be served as an appetizer or as an entree, although they are pretty filling, so we think they work best served as the main course.

We love them with a wonderful bottle of red, such as Cabernet, or Zinfandel. A loaf of crusty Italian bread is ideal.

And start things off with our wonderful Caesar salad! And then comes time for the star of the meal!

An Italian stuffed shell being held up on a large silver spoon.

This dish is perfect for a busy weeknight meal, but also special enough for a wonderful dinner party.

And reheating them is so easy. Just place them back in a baking dish, cover with foil, and reheat in a 350°F oven for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until heated through.

With just one bite, you’ll understand why this has become a favorite dish in our Italian food rotation!

A fork being used to break open a stuffed shell on marinara sauce all on a white dinner plate.

Ready to make some of the best Italian comfort food this side of Little Italy? Go for it!

And when you do, be sure to take a picture, post it on Instagram, and tag @HowToFeedaLoon and #HowToFeedaLoon!

An oval white baking dish filled with cooked Italian stuffed shells all sitting on a layer of marinara sauce.

Italian Stuffed Shells

These are amazing Italian stuffed shells. We love using a chicken Italian sausage for the meat, but you could also use standard pork Italian sausage, too, hot or sweet. These shells work as an appetizer or entree and reheat wonderfully the following day.
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Appetizer or Entree
Cuisine: Italian, Italian / American
Keyword: chicken stuffed shells, how to make stuffed shells
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 6
Calories: 528kcal

Equipment

  • 9"x13" baking dish

Ingredients

  • 20 jumbo shells dried
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup onion chopped
  • 1 cup green bell pepper seeded and chopped
  • 1 cup celery chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 12 oz. chicken sausage Italian, casing removed, usually 3 links
  • 1 tbsp parsley fresh, chopped
  • 1 tbsp basil fresh, chopped
  • 1 tbsp rosemary fresh, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 oz fresh Ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese grated, plus more for sprinkling on top
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese whole milk, shredded
  • 3 cups marinara sauce

Instructions

  • In a pot of boiling lightly salted water set over high heat, cook the pasta shells for 10 to 12 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and transfer the shells to a large bowl and toss with a tbsp of olive. Set aside.
  • In a large saute pan, heat 3 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, bell pepper, and celery, and sauté, stirring frequently, until soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute until aromatic.
  • Use a small knife to cut the casings off of the chicken sausage links. Use your fingers to crumble the sausage into the skillet with the cooked vegetables. Cook, stirring often, until the sausage is fully cooked, about 8 minutes more.
  • Stir in the parsley, basil, rosemary, 1 tsp salt, and ½ tsp black pepper. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Place in the fridge to cool for about 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  • Place the ricotta into a medium-sized bowl and stir in the egg until smooth. Stir in the Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. Mix until fully blended. Set aside.
  • Once the meat mixture has cooled somewhat, remove it from the refrigerator and stir in the cheese mixture until fully combined.
  • Spread about 2 cups of the marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9"x13" baking dish.
  • Using a spoon, fill the shells with as much stuffing as you can, about 1/4 cup. Place the shells, stuffed side up, on the sauce. Ladle a little more marinara over the tops of the shells. Sprinkle Parmesan all over the tops of the stuffed shells.
  • Cover the casserole with aluminum foil and bake the shells for about 12 minutes.
  • Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the tops of the shells are slightly browned. Serve the shells with the remaining 1/2 cup of grated cheese on the side.

Video

Notes

Jumbo shells can be found in the dried pasta section of many well-stocked supermarkets.  If you can't find jumbo shells, you can use lasagna noodles.  Simply cook them according to package directions, and then lay them flat and spread a thin layer of the filling over them. Roll them up tight and bake them the same way you would the shells.
We recommend cooking at least 20 shells, you probably won't use all of them, but several of them may break during the cooking process, so it's good to have extra. 
You can make your own Italian chicken sausage by combining 1 lb of ground chicken with 1 clove of minced garlic, 1 tsp each of dried parsley, basil, and oregano, and 1/2 tsp each of fennel, paprika, red pepper flakes, and salt.   
Smoked mozzarella is a nice twist for this dish.  It does have a pretty distinct taste, so taste it first.  We sometimes go with 1/2 cup of smoked mozzarella and 1/2 cup of whole-milk mozzarella. 
The meat mixture and cheese mixture can be made up to 24 hours in advance.  The marinara can be made up to 5 days in advance, or frozen for up to 2 months.
Leftover shells are delicious!  Place in a baking dish, cover with foil, and bake in an oven preheated to 350°F for about 20 minutes, or until heated through and bubbly.
The stuffed shells will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days and can be frozen for up to 1 month. 

Nutrition

Calories: 528kcal | Carbohydrates: 36g | Protein: 29g | Fat: 26g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 112mg | Sodium: 1659mg | Potassium: 674mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 1410IU | Vitamin C: 33mg | Calcium: 400mg | Iron: 3mg
Tried this recipe? Take a Picture!Mention @HowToFeedALoon or tag #HowToFeedALoon!

POST UPDATE: This recipe was originally published in August 2014, but was updated with improved tweaks to the recipe, new tips and photography, and a fabulous new video in January 2021!

8 Comments

  • 5 stars
    You both are so entertaining! I love watching you both.
    I never tried the chicken sausage in my shells, but I am going to make them next week. I am making your eggplant parm Sunday as my kids and their families come for Sunday dinner. I always have trouble getting certified San Marzanos but I had some delivered from Amazon . Will let you know how well it turned out. Thanks again for keeping me in stitches! As one of my daughter is a vegetarian and will not allow her toddler to have meat the eggplant recipe is perfect with sauted broccolini and freshly made garlic bread! The shells for her I will omit the meat. Thanks again.

    • Thanks so much, Phyllis!! You are so amazing and this all sounds so delicious!!! The stuffed shells should still be delicious, even without the meat! Let us know how it all turns out! You’ve got lucky kids to have such an amazing mom such as you!!

  • Kris, how lovely of you to write such a warm response! Thanks for the clarification and for updating the recipe. In transit in Korea now heading back to NY with my partner Kate for a summer holiday in VT. We live in Japan. Can’t wait to be on holiday to have more time to peruse your fabulous site… and to
    COOK! The recipes I’ve looked at look divine and the pictures are gorgeous. Thanks for doing what you do! Where do you guys live? We are wondering where to retire, and we want to be your neighbors!! (Promise not to stalk… )

    • Hi Lyn!! Have an amazing time in Korea! (We are jealous!) We just moved from the Princeton, NJ area back to where I (Kris) grew up to be near family in the Dallas, TX area. We miss the NE, but love where we are and being near family. Come be our neighbors! We’d keep you well fed!! 🙂 xo

  • (Just found your site today, looking for tamale recipes. I love you guys already!)

    This looks outrageous! Do you mix the sausage stuffing with the cheese stuffing at some point, or spoon them in separately?

    • Hi Lyn!! Thank you so much!! We are so glad you found us and we found YOU!! 🙂 That’s a great question, and the recipe doesn’t explain that clearly. Yes, after you’ve let the sausage mixture and the cheese mixture rest in the fridge, pull them both out and gently fold the cheese mixture into the sausage mixture…this now is the stuffing. Thanks for bringing that to our attention…I’ve updated the recipe so that’s clear. Stay in touch!! Best, Kris & Wesley

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