Cheese-Stuffed Jumbo Pasta Shells

by Kristen on July 17, 2012 · 39 comments

in Main Dishes

This is a birthday standby for the girls at our house, much to Joshua’s chagrin (he’s not into pasta of almost any kind.) He tries to talk them into picking something else for their birthday meals, but success usually eludes him.

When I was growing up, my mom used to make cheese-stuffed manicotti shells, but sometime during my teen years, we discovered that jumbo shells taste pretty much the same but are infinitely easier to fill.

My recipe isn’t unique at all…it’s the one off the back of the box. But just in case some of you out there have only ever eaten the pre-filled, frozen shells, I thought it might be fun to show you that the DIY version isn’t that hard.

And it is a lot less expensive.

As you might imagine, given that you can buy a frozen version, you can freeze your home-stuffed shells. So even if you’ve got a small household, make a whole batch and freeze a pan for a quick meal you can pull out on a busy day.

These are the shells I buy.

I cook them according to the package directions and then gently dump them out into a colander to cool.

While the shells are cooking, I mix up the cheese filling, which is very not-complicated. Just dump everything together in a large bowl and stir it together.

Once the pasta shells are cool enough to handle, hold a shell open with one hand and scoop some cheese filling into it with a spoon. This takes a bit of practice, but once you get it down, you can fill the shells pretty quickly.

And if you’ve got some offspring, you can always round them up to help you.

Pour a thin layer of jarred pasta sauce into a pan, and place the cheese-filled shells on top. The original recipe says you can fit all of the shells into a single pan, but I usually need to put some in an 8×8 pan.

Pour the remaining pasta sauce over top of the shells.

Cover with foil and bake in a 350° F oven for 35 minutes, or until they’re hot and bubbly.

If you like sausage with your pasta shells, just cook some up and sprinkle it over top of the shells before you bake them. Some of us like the sausage and some of us don’t, so I usually put sausage on half of the shells.

Really, you could vary these a lot…you could add spinach or fresh basil to the filling, add mushrooms along with the sausage, or use Romano instead of Parmesan in the filling.

But since we mostly have these on birthdays, which are not the time for experimentation, we usually just stick to the delicious original recipe.

Cheese-Stuffed Jumbo Pasta Shells

1 package (12 oz.) jumbo pasta shells, uncooked
4 cups (2 lb.) ricotta cheese
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 eggs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups (about 26-oz. jar) spaghetti sauce

Cook shells according to package directions; drain, and let cool.

In a large bowl, combine ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, eggs, parsley, oregano, salt, and pepper.

Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan. Using a spoon, fill cooled shells with cheese mixture; place in pan. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the shells.

Cover with foil and bake in a 350° F oven for 35 minutes.

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Today’s 365 post: She thought she couldn’t paint anything.

Joshua’s 365 post: Herobrine

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sarah D. July 17, 2012 at 7:08 am

I’ve been following your blog for some months now, and I really enjoy the tips and tricks for making things more simple and efficient and less expensive, so I thought I’d share one of mine with you!

I’m a vegetarian, and I make cheese stuffed shells all the time for my family. It’s a great veg friendly meal that still satisfies my carnivorous husband. When I fill the shells, instead of using a spoon, I use a piping bag for cake icing. You just fill the piping bag with the cheese mix and squeeze it into the shells. It’s usually a lot quicker and cleaner than using the spoon method…those noodles can be slippery little suckers. :)

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2 Carol July 17, 2012 at 7:48 am

Agree that making stuffed shells isn’t that difficult and they make what I call a great “frozen asset.” Make double of what you need for dinner tonight and freeze a second dish for a night when you need to simply pull something out, as you are busy. I stock up on the cheeses when on sale and have a marathon lasagna and stuffed shells session (having previously stocked up on sale priced pasta-usually around the Dec holidays). Another tip is to use cottage cheese to replace some or all of the more expensive ricotta. I first tried this last year 50-50 mix, and no one was the wiser. Depending upon what is on sale, that decides what I use. Drained fzn or canned spinach works well in this also! Finally, making a simple marinara is very easy as well. Grab a 29 oz can of tomato sauce/puree and add some Ital seasoning, salt, pepper, Bay leaf, minced onion, garlic. I stock up at Shoprite’s Can Can sale and only pay 67 cents/can for tomato sauce.

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3 Elizabeth July 17, 2012 at 10:33 am

ooh Carol – I make these all the time and never tried the cottage cheese substitution. What a great idea! Thanks.

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4 Camille February 13, 2013 at 8:33 pm

Hi, I saw your post about freezing these. Do you freeze these before cooking? I just made them and have tons left over. I’ve never tried to freeze a dish with this much cheese, and wondered if you do anything special to it besides wrapping tightly. Any tips?

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5 Kristen February 13, 2013 at 10:02 pm

I usually freeze mine before I bake them but I’ve also frozen them afterwards. If they’re not in a lidded container, I wrap them in plastic wrap and then in foil.

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6 lisa July 17, 2012 at 7:56 am

A little handy tip for stuffing shells (or whatever). I decorate a lot of cakes etc, so I have found by putting the cheese mixture in a decorating bag (or ziploc), you can squeeze it in super fast, easy and without a lot of mess–especially if you are doing quite a few. However, these are a favorite in our house as well, along with individual lasagna roll-ups, those are quick and easy as well, but a little more messy.

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7 Ellen July 17, 2012 at 8:37 am

Even easier to fill the shells, either with a pastry bag, or even a zip lock with the corner cut off! Much easier then trying to fill with a spoon!

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8 Mindy July 17, 2012 at 8:41 am

What a timely post! I have stuffed shells on our menu soon, will have to try this version instead of my ususal. (It’s good, but usually seems like it’s missing a little something) I don’t buy that brand of shell, so don’t have that recipe. Thanks for sharing!

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9 Battra92 July 17, 2012 at 8:43 am

Joshua’s not alone out there. I was another kid who wouldn’t (and still won’t) have anything to do with pasta of any kind. It got a lot of people confused because that’s supposed to be something all kids eat.

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10 Karen July 17, 2012 at 8:55 am

This is my daughter’s favorite meal! I put spinach in the filling. It’s such a hit.

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11 Megan July 17, 2012 at 9:21 am

This is one of the few meals that I do buy frozen. :(

I waste so many shells either sticking or ripping. And I usually end up with a weird texture. I can’t make lasagna either because of the texture thing. No idea why.

I found that the Aldi ones that they have on special are actually better than mine, and easier! Pricewise I thought they were really reasonable too- especially when you consider the shells I waste.

I hate to say something frozen is better than homemade. Maybe I will try a different brand of shells, and the pastry bag trick.

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12 Leslie Shelton July 17, 2012 at 9:28 am

Perhaps you are over-cooked the shells. I usually cook them a little less than the package suggests anyhow, when they are going to be baked further in the sauce. Try it…a sturdier shell is easier to fill! Hope it works out for you.

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13 Leslie Shelton July 17, 2012 at 9:29 am

Over cookING. Not over cooked :).

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14 Rebecca July 17, 2012 at 9:34 am

I make mine GF, but the same tricks apply there. I under cook the pasta a little, maybe boil only for 6 min or so, so that when the shells are cooked a second time they don’t get too mushy. Same for lasagna noodles. And after I drain them I keep them in a little bit of cool water while I am stuffing so the shells don’t stick together.

Any leftover shells that you don’t stuff or that tear can still be eaten, with plain spaghetti sauce, also.

I make quadruple batches of these every few months, stuffing them with whatever I can come up with in the fridge/freezer. I freeze them solid individually on a cookie sheet and then put them in gallon freezer bags. I can bake as many or as little as I like at a time, even microwaving a few for my super hungry 6 year old as an after school snack. Just dump marinara or alfredo on top and bake.

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15 Kristen July 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm

My girls like to eat any torn shells plain right out of the colander, so I never have to worry about what to do with them. They do love pasta.

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16 Karen July 17, 2012 at 10:09 pm

My middle child is horribly picky and I give him the torn shells with butter and grated parm for dinner on stuffed shell night. I like that too, in fact :)

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17 Danielle July 17, 2012 at 10:07 am

I make these same shells! Also, I fill a piping bag with the cheese mixture to make filling even easier. (otherwise I end up dropping or slicing the shells!).

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18 Lili@creativesavv July 17, 2012 at 10:12 am

Those look fantastic, Kristen! You could serve that plate in a restaurant!

I’ve made something very similar, just with chopped and shredded chicken added to the cheese filling. And I agree with Carol, stuffed shells freeze nicely. I’ve done large batches and frozen prior to a large gathering of friends and family.

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19 Elizabeth@ReadySetSimplify July 17, 2012 at 10:26 am

Yummy yum. Thanks for sharing!

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20 WB July 17, 2012 at 11:30 am

Try stirring in some goat cheese when you mix up the filling. It makes it soooooo creamy and delicious. Although not especially frugal.

I was making the rolled lasagna version of manicotti but I never tried shells. I decided it’s much easier, to me, to just make ziti. Get the biggest round noodles you can find if you like lots of cheese filling (they aren’t named ziti but something else I can’t think of right now). Then you just stir it all together instead of having to stuff or roll anything.

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21 sonya July 17, 2012 at 1:07 pm

i love making them…i do about the same recipe but half the shells i do cream cheese instead of ricotta because half my family like the cream cheese and the other half ricotta….even good the next day….whenever we have left overs..lol

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22 Regina July 17, 2012 at 1:54 pm

If you like this you will also love the baked manicotti recipe from Cooks Illustrated. It uses flat lasagna noodles and rolls them up. I know you are a CI fan, as I am and thought you would enjoy this one. I have made it several times and it is my daughter’s most requested meal.

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23 Becky July 17, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Hi Kristen–do you have a decent store bought sauce for this? I haven’t been able to find a good “go to” yet. Thanks!

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24 Kristen July 23, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Do you have an Aldi near you? Their jarred tomato sauce is really good as jarred sauces go…so much better than the store-brand sauce at other stores.

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25 Amanda July 17, 2012 at 7:45 pm

America’s Test Kitchen has a recipe where you can make a bunch of these and freeze them for later. The big trick is to freeze the sauce and the stuffed shells separately. Save money and time! It doesn’t get much sweeter than that!

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26 Molly F. C. July 17, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Becky, I like the Barilla sauce if needing a ready made one. There are usually coupons to be found too.

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27 Amruta July 17, 2012 at 11:53 pm

hey this recipe looks yummy! we do get this kind of pasta in India but I never really bought it. I will try this out this weekend. Just one question, do you always buy the tomato pasta sauce? I thought making it is much more easy and economical. Whenever I make pasta, I make it from scratch because the store bought ones are really tangy.

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28 Kristen July 23, 2012 at 3:35 pm

It depends…if I have extra time, I sometimes make my own sauce, but if I’m in a hurry and want to save a step, I use the jarred sauce.

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29 Juliana July 18, 2012 at 2:46 am

Thanks for providing the recipe for the stuffed shells! Over here in Australia we don’t have the same box of shells, so I have never known what recipe you use…. It’s great to see it! I plan to try and buy some similar pasta here (maybe cannelloni tubes?) and try the recipe here!

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30 Kristen July 23, 2012 at 3:36 pm

I think those would work!

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31 Raffaella July 18, 2012 at 11:05 am

Yum! Looks good. You know, I never make these kinds of stuffed pasta. I should.

Is what you call “Romano” pecorino, goat cheese? Tasty.

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32 Raffaella July 19, 2012 at 7:32 am

Sheep, not goat. D’oh.

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33 WickedFrugal July 18, 2012 at 11:18 am

Thanks for the great recipe! I am going to try this tonight and use arrabbiata sauce to give it some extra kick.

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34 Diane July 18, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Thanks…I have some ricotta languishing in the fridge and just made a marinara sauce from tomatoes right from the farm and my homegrown basil. I’m going to make a pan to freeze for later.

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35 Rebecca j July 18, 2012 at 6:48 pm

I love this trick when doing Lasgana or any kind of stuffed pasta. I don’t cook the pasta. I stuff the shells or lay the pasta in the lasgana and add a bit if extra water to the sauce and bake as normal. The pasta soaked up all the goodness and are perfect. Lasgana stacked and pasta cooked perfect. I haven’t tried freezing uncocked pasta. Thanks for the post reminded I need to do some stuffed shells!

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36 Amy July 22, 2012 at 10:32 pm

I use the “no boil” lasanga noodles, and make several pans at one time. They freeze up just as well for me as doing it the other way, and I don’t have to deal with slippery noodles :)

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37 Hydra July 18, 2012 at 10:27 pm

Thanks FG for sharing this recipe. It’s one of those that is so easy, but I never would have thought to make it. I go more complicated and make lasagna instead. I love the idea of freezing them. PS, my favorite store-bought sauce is the Bolognese from Trader Joe’s. If you’ve got one near you, their sauce is great!

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38 Traci October 10, 2012 at 5:51 pm

So, do you freeze them before you bake them or after? Thanks!

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39 Kristen October 10, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Definitely before you bake them!

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