Table of Contents
  1. Why this recipe works.
  2. Everything you’ll need to make this recipe.
  3. Here’s how to make this recipe.
  4. These pro tips will make this recipe a success.
  5. Frequently asked questions about this recipe.
  6. You'll love these other pasta recipes.
  7. Watch how to make this recipe.
  8. Have I convinced you to make this recipe?
  9. Three-Cheese Stuffed Shells Recipe

With a quick homemade tomato sauce underneath and packed with a ricotta cheese mixture, this is the best recipe for stuffed shells. It’s an easy enough meal that it’s perfect for any weeknight while it looks like it should be reserved for a special occasion. So if you have a family or a group of friends that love pasta, this is the recipe to make!

Why this recipe works.

Stuffed shells could turn you away just from the name. The idea of cooking a noodle and stuffing it with filling begs the question, is it worth it? This recipe gives the answer, yes! Cooking jumbo shell noodles is simple and quick. While they are cooking, the sauce and filling can be made. The tomato sauce simmers on the stove with canned tomatoes, onion, and seasonings. Ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan are mixed together with seasonings for a quick filling. Once the shells cool, the filling is easily spooned into the shells. The sauce is used as a bed for the shells, and once assembled, the dish is baked in the oven until bubbling. This is a comfort meal that is far easier to make than it sounds and more delicious than you think.

White baking dish with stuffed shells in a white baking dish with a spoon holding one shell showing the ricotta mixture inside with tomato sauce underneath.

Everything you’ll need to make this recipe.

  • Crushed tomatoes are canned tomatoes that should always be in the pantry. The texture has some tomato pieces but is full of a rich pureé that creates a perfect sauce.
  • Ricotta cheese has a beautiful, creamy, rich, and almost sweet flavor. While it may seem grainy at first, once mixed together with the other cheeses in this filling, it takes on a whole new texture. For the most flavor, make sure to buy whole-fat ricotta cheese.
  • Lemon zest is a touch of brightness in this cheese sauce that will really shine through. 
  • Mozzarella cheese is a classic melting cheese for Italian dishes. The cheese adds a creamy texture once baked with subtle flavor.
  • Parmesan cheese gives the nutty flavor that is the finishing touch. A little goes a long way in rounding out the cheese mixture.
White marble surface filled with all ingredients needed to make stuffed shells including pasta, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, tomato sauce, spices, herbs, and more.

Here’s how to make this recipe.

  1. Cook the sauce. To a medium-sized skillet set over medium heat on the stovetop, add 2 tbsp of butter. Once it’s melted, add the minced onion and salt. Let this sauté until the onion has begun to brown and is translucent. After 4 to 6 minutes, add in the minced garlic along with the black pepper, red pepper flakes, and dried oregano. Stir the garlic and spices into the onions and add in the sprig of basil and crushed tomatoes. Stir everything together and let the mixture simmer for 20 minutes. 
  1. Prepare the pasta. To a large stockpot filled with boiling water, add some salt as well as the pasta. Cook the shells according to the package instructions until al dente. Once cooked, remove the pasta, drain, and rinse with cool water. Set the shells aside to cool slightly so they can be handled.
  1. Prepare the cheese filling. In a large bowl, add the egg and use a whisk to beat it. Then add in the ricotta cheese, salt, black pepper, lemon zest, chopped fresh basil, chopped fresh parsley, 1 cup of the shredded mozzarella cheese, and shredded Parmesan cheese. Mix everything together until the entire mixture is homogenous and well-combined.
  1. Stuff the shells. Remove the simmering sauce from the stove and remove the sprig of basil and discard. To the bottom of a greased 9×13 baking dish, add all of the tomato sauce, spreading it out to an even layer. Use a spoon to fill one shell at a time with a spoonful of the ricotta mixture. Then lay the shell open-side facing up in the tomato sauce in the baking dish. Continue this process until all of the shells are filled. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese.
  1. Bake the shells. Once all of the shells are in the dish, place the baking dish in the preheated 350°F oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Once fully baked, remove it from the oven and let cool slightly before serving.

These pro tips will make this recipe a success.

  • When making a homemade tomato sauce, use butter to brown the onion rather than oil. There’s a specific reason for this: the butter calms the acidity of the tomatoes and makes for a better-tasting sauce. 
  • It’s always important to wait to add the salt to the pasta water until it is boiling. There is no other opportunity to season the pasta, so salting the water will impart additional flavor to the pasta. And if worried about the sodium content, only a small amount of salt will actually make its way into the shells, but the flavor will be heightened.
  • When zesting any citrus, hold the fruit in your palm. Take the Microplane and run it all over the citrus, keeping it steady. Let the Microplane do all of the moving. Since the Microplane will be face up, all of the zest will collect and can then be dumped right into the bowl along with all of the other ingredients.
Stuffed shell being held on a silver spoon above the rest of pasta with half cut off showing the interior creamy ricotta mixture inside.

Frequently asked questions about this recipe.

Can this recipe be prepared beforehand and baked later?

Yes, this recipe can be made and assembled 24 hours before baking. Cover and store in the refrigerator until it is time to bake. Add 15-20 minutes to the baking time to account for the chilled casserole.

Can purchased tomato sauce be used instead of making homemade tomato sauce?

Yes, home-canned or store-purchased tomato sauce can be used in place of the one made in the recipe.

How long does this recipe last once baked?

This casserole makes great leftovers. Once stored in the refrigerator, the leftovers will keep for 7-10 days.

Watch how to make this recipe.

More pasta recipes to try

Have I convinced you to make this recipe?

I hope you make this recipe and put some food on your table. Leave a comment and share a star rating so you can let others know how much you love this recipe. This helps show others that this is a recipe they, too, can make, enjoy, and love!

White marble surface with oval white baking dish sitting on top filled with stuffed shells with shredded cheese on top after being melted in oven while baking.

Three-Cheese Stuffed Shells

4.89 from 9 votes
With a quick homemade tomato sauce underneath and packed with a ricotta cheese mixture, this is the best recipe for stuffed shells. It’s an easy enough meal that it’s perfect for any weeknight while it looks like it should be reserved for a special occasion. So if you have a family or a group of friends that love pasta, this is the recipe to make!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Servings 24 shells

Ingredients

  • 1 small onion minced
  • ¾ tsp kosher salt
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • ¾ tsp dried oregano
  • 1 large sprig basil
  • 28 oz crushed tomatoes
  • 24 jumbo shells (cook 28 shells in case of any breakage)

For the three-cheese mixture

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese separated
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9×13 baking dish and set it aside.
  • In a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsp butter over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the diced onion and salt. Sauté the onion until it is soft and translucent, 4-6 minutes. Once the onions are cooked, add the garlic, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and dried oregano. Stir into the onions for 1 minute and add the basil and tomatoes. Bring the tomatoes to a boil and then turn them down to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes.
    1 small onion, ¾ tsp kosher salt, 2 cloves garlic, ½ tsp black pepper, ½ tsp red pepper flakes, ¾ tsp dried oregano, 28 oz crushed tomatoes, 1 large sprig basil
  • While the sauce is simmering, in a large stock pot, bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, add 2 tbsp of salt and the jumbo shells. Cook the shells until they are al dente, 8 minutes. Once cooked, drain the shells and rinse them with cold water to stop the cooking. Set the shells aside to drain.
    24 jumbo shells (cook 28 shells in case of any breakage)
  • In a medium bowl, beat the egg until it is smooth. Add the ricotta, salt, black pepper, lemon zest, fresh basil, fresh parsley, 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese, and Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine and set the mixture aside.
    1 large egg, 1 cup ricotta cheese, ½ tsp kosher salt, ½ tsp black pepper, 2 tsp lemon zest, ¼ cup chopped fresh basil, ½ cup chopped fresh parsley, 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Pour the prepared sauce into the prepared baking dish. Holding one shell at a time, spoon 2 tbsp of the ricotta mixture into the shell and set it in the sauce. Repeat for the remaining shells, filling up the baking dish. Top each of the shells with the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and bake in the preheated 350°F oven until the sauce is bubbling throughout and the cheese is melted, 25-30 minutes. Once baked, remove the casserole from the oven and serve.

Notes

  • When making a homemade tomato sauce, use butter to brown the onion rather than oil. There’s a specific reason for this: the butter calms the acidity of the tomatoes and makes for a better-tasting sauce. 
  • It’s always important to wait to add the salt to the pasta water until it is boiling. There is no other opportunity to season the pasta, so salting the water will impart additional flavor to the pasta. And if worried about the sodium content, only a small amount of salt will actually make its way into the shells, but the flavor will be heightened.
  • When zesting any citrus, hold the fruit in your palm. Take the Microplane and run it all over the citrus, keeping it steady. Let the Microplane do all of the moving. Since the Microplane will be face up, all of the zest will collect and can then be dumped right into the bowl along with all of the other ingredients.

Nutrition

Serving: 3shellsCalories: 355kcal
Course Dinner
Cuisine Italian
Difficulty Intermediate
Method Baking

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Kaleb

I’m Kaleb! I'm not a chef, professional baker, landscaper, or designer, but I like to play each on Knollgate Farm. Come join me on my journey and let's learn together!

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7 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Made it for tonight’s dinner. It was so good. My husband said it was delicious. I amazed myself that I actually made this delicious sauce in 30 min.
    Just one thing – you did not list the butter in the ingredients but the amount was in the directions so I was ok.
    Thank you for teaching us about flavoring foods and trying different things.
    PS my amaryllis were beautiful this year.

  2. 4 stars
    This dish was quick and easy to prepare. The flavours were good but we found the cheese stuffing just a little on the rich side. Having said that, the tomato sauce we really good and so easy. We definitely will make that again as it can easily be incorporated into other dishes. Overall, we are glad we tried this recipe but probably wouldn’t make again.

  3. 5 stars
    Love this recipe. Can’t find large shell pasta so substituted no boil lasagna noodles. Just soaked in boiling water long enough to soften, spread the cheese mixture on one, rolled it up and proceeded with the rest of the recipe. Turned out great. Thank you. Looking forward to trying other recip

  4. 5 stars
    Yet another recipe of yours that we loved. Very easy to make. Your recipes are my go to place to look for what I want to make.

  5. 5 stars
    I made these last night for dinner. Another winning recipe! worked like charm and tasted great! Thanks for sharing your recipes with us!
    Go make this tonight! You won’t be disappointed!