There’s truly no way to go wrong with noodles and cheese. Then add a filling meat sauce to the mix, and these Stuffed Shells with Meat will find their way onto your weekly menu time and time again.
Baked Stuffed Shells With Meat
Magic is bound to happen when you combine noodles, cheese, and a meat sauce to create a delicious and easy weeknight meal. Maybe that magic looks like your child asking for seconds or maybe there are no complaints when it’s served for leftovers the following night. Regardless, we hope you love this tasty, satisfying, and simple dish that uses some of our favorite ingredients. If you don’t have jumbo shells on hand, try this cheesy baked rigatoni instead. And if you’re looking for a vegan option, we’ve got you covered.
What You Will Need
- whole milk ricotta cheese – This subtly sweet and slightly textured cheese makes the filling for the pasta shells easy to work with and super creamy.
- spinach – Flecks of mild spinach throughout provides a pop of color and a nutritional boost.
- pesto – Talk about flavor! This fresh kitchen staple is a must to bring this dish to the next level. If you need a vegan option, try out our vegan pesto recipe.
- parmesan and mozzarella cheese – these two cheeses provide the melty gooeyness that we know and love plus a whole slew of complex and rich flavors.
- lemon juice – When in doubt, a bit of lemon juice will brighten any dish.
- Italian seasoning and fresh basil – These classic Italian flavors pair perfectly with the pasta shells and subtle cheeses.
- egg – This ingredient helps to bind all of the cheeses to ensure they don’t slip right out of the noodles.
- jumbo pasta shells – How fun are these! Young and old alike will find some delight in giant noodles on their plate.
- olive oil, garlic, onion – These sharp flavors meld nicely with the softer cheese flavors.
- ground beef – Any variety will do.
- marinara sauce – Feel free to pick up your favorite store bought brand or try out our homemade marinara recipe.
- shredded cheese of your choice – Any option is a good option, even dairy-free if that’s your thing.
- kosher salt & black pepper – Last but definitely not least, this duo brings out the best in all the flavors throughout the dish.
Can I Make This In Advance
Yes! Simply assemble the dish, but don’t bake it. Cover the dish with foil and place in the fridge for 24 hours or place in the freezer for up to three months. Once you’re ready to bake, let your dish sit on the counter until it’s thawed all the way through and bake as instructed.
How To Make Stuffed Shells With Meat
Combine ricotta cheese, spinach, pesto, parmesan, mozzarella, lemon juice, Italian seasoning, fresh basil, egg, salt and pepper in a medium sized bowl to create your pasta shell filling.
Mix all of the ricotta mixture ingredients together and set aside. Next, cook pasta al dente according to package instructions. Drain and toss with a little olive oil to keep them from sticking together and drying out while you prepare the sauce.
What Meat Goes With Stuffed Shells
Ground beef provides the right texture and consistency for this dish, but you can always experiment with other options. Note that ground poultry like chicken and turkey are leaner, and therefore won’t provide the same sauciness as ground beef.
Bring a large cast iron skillet to medium-high heat. Add olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add garlic and move around the pan until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Next add the ground beef and move it around the pan until it’s fully cooked. Drain the access grease and finally add the onion, fresh basil, salt, pepper, and marinara sauce. Mix to combine.
Add half of the meat sauce to the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish.
One by one, take a shell and fill it with the ricotta mixture. Place them in the pan and repeat until the ricotta mixture is all used up.
Cover the shells with the remaining meat sauce.
Finally, top with shredded cheese.
Cover the pan with foil and place on the middle rack of your oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F. Remove foil and return to oven for 5-10 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
Let cool slightly and then serve! Feel free to top with additional fresh basil and parmesan cheese.
What To Serve With Stuffed Shells With Meat
The possibilities are endless here, folks. Since this is a pretty hearty meal, we like to throw in some pops of color and fresh bites with some simple steamed green beans, air fryer asparagus, or a simple strawberry spinach salad. And if you’re really looking to wow a crowd, round out this meal with some baked maple cardamom pears or brown butter cherry chocolate chunk cookie bars for dessert.
- Gluten-Free: To make this recipe gluten-free, simply use gluten-free pasta shells.
- Dairy-Free: To make this recipe dairy-free, substitute cheeses for dairy-free options.
- Make It Spicy: Add some heat by adding a sprinkle of red pepper flakes on top of your baked shells and/or add a dash of cayenne pepper to your meat sauce.
- Storage: Keep in fridge for 3-5 days and freezer for up to 3 months.
Made this recipe and loved it?! We would love it if you would take a minute and leave a star rating and review – it is also helpful if you made any substitutions or changes to the recipe to share that as well. THANK YOU!
Stuffed Shells with Meat – this stuffed shells with meat recipe is a delicious, family-friendly weeknight dinner that so easy and SO GOOD!
- 15oz whole milk ricotta cheese (or dairy-free option)
- 1/4 cup chopped spinach leaves
- 2 tablespoons pesto
- 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 12 oz box jumbo pasta shells
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 24 oz marinara sauce
- 2–3 cups shredded cheese of your choice
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Combine Ricotta Mixture ingredients in a medium bowl; stir to combine and set aside.
- Cook pasta al dente according to package instructions. Drain and toss with a little olive oil if they might sit out for a bit while you prepare the sauce – this will help prevent them from sticking and drying out.
- Meanwhile, bring a large cast iron skillet to medium-high heat. Add oil and swirl to coat the pan.
- Add garlic and move around pan until it becomes fragrant, approx. 30 seconds.
- Add ground beef and move around pan until it is fully cooked; drain excess grease.
- Add onion, fresh basil, salt, pepper and marinara sauce. Stir to combine.
- Taste and add any additional salt, as desired.
- Add approx. 1/2 the meat sauce to the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish.
- One by one, take a shell and fill it with the ricotta mixture. Place in the pan and repeat until the ricotta mixture is all used up.
- Cover the shells with the remaining meat sauce and then top with the shredded cheese.
- Cover pan with foil and place in the oven, middle rack, for 30 minutes.
- Remove foil and return to oven for 5-10 minutes or until cheese is melted.
- Let cool slightly and then serve. Feel free to top with additional fresh basil and parmesan cheese.
- Dairy-Free: To make this dish dairy-free, use dairy-free cheese options throughout.
- Gluten-Free: To make this dish gluten-free, use gluten-free pasta shells.
- Storage: Once cooled completely, store in an air-tight container in the fridge for 3-5 days.
- Spice it up: For those with a brave palette, feel free to throw in some red pepper flakes over the top or sprinkle in some cayenne pepper to the marinara sauce.
Keywords: stuffed shells with meat