Cheesy Stuffed Shells

When I think of classic Italian stuffed shells, I think of cozy Sunday night dinners around the table with family. This recipe, adapted from Big Flavors from Italian America by America’s Test Kitchen, fits that bill perfectly. The recipe is fairly simple to make because there’s no need to parboil the shells before stuffing them. Instead, the shells are smothered in a thin tomato sauce prior to baking, ensuring the pasta cooks through. The filling is loaded with flavor, thanks to a blend of creamy ricotta, gooey fontina, and salty Pecorino Romano cheeses, as well as garlic, basil, and oregano. Finally, to make the dish even more irresistible, a generous sprinkle of fontina cheese over the shells creates a rich, cheesy topping. Even without any meat, this dish is as satisfying as the heartiest lasagna.

To stuff the shells, disposable pastry bags come in handy (and you can use them for decorating cakes and cookies or filling deviled eggs, too). However, if you don’t have them, a ziplock bag with a snipped corner does the job well.

What You’ll Need To Make Stuffed Shells

stuffed shells ingredients

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: Make the Sauce

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, salt, and pepper.  onions, salt, and pepper in sauce pan

Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds (don’t brown the garlic).

adding garlic and red pepper flakes

Stir in the crushed tomatoes, water, and sugar and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, until flavors have melded, about 5 minutes. (The cooled sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

simmering tomato sauce

Step 2: Make the Filling

Combine the ricotta cheese, shredded fontina (or whole-milk mozzarella) cheese, Pecorino Romano cheese, eggs, basil, cornstarch, garlic, oregano, and salt in a bowl.
stuffed shells cheese mixture ingredients in bowl

Mix until thoroughly combined.

mixed ricotta cheese filling

Transfer the filling to pastry bag or large zipper-lock bag. (If using a zipper-lock bag, be sure the corners are square; the rounded-corner bags are difficult to use.)

how to fill the pastry bag or plastic bag with the cheese filling

Step 3: Stuff and Bake the Shells

Adjust the oven rack to middle position and preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the shells open side up on the counter. Cut ½-inch off of the tip or corner of the bag.

snipping off the top of the pastry bagPipe the filling into shells until each is full.

stuffed shells on counter

Spread 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of 9×13-inch baking dish. Transfer the shells, open side up, to the prepared dish.

stuffed shells over tomato sauce in baking dish

Pour the remaining sauce evenly over the shells to completely cover.

stuffed shells covered with tomato sauce

Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil. Bake until the shells are tender and the sauce is boiling rapidly, about 45 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and discard the foil.

partially cooked stuffed shells

Sprinkle the fontina (or mozzarella) over top. Return to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the cheese is lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

stuffed shells covered with cheese

Let the dish cool, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes (this rest is essential to fully cook the pasta).

Sprinkle with the basil and serve.

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