authentic italian stuffed pasta shells

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~stuffed pasta shells~

There are few recipes in my repertoire that are requested more often than my recipe for stuffed shells. I’ve made this dish a LOT and over the years I’d have to say it’s become darn near perfect. My grandma Darling’s birthday is coming up here in a few weeks and I’m sure she’ll ask me sweetly, in that cute grandma way of hers, “Honey, I know it’s a lot of work, but would you mind making your stuffed shells when we come down?” To which I’ll reply, “Sure grandma!” and then spend the entire morning in the kitchen on the day they’re due to arrive. All I can say is it’s a good thing I love to cook. 🙂

Soooo…to make this amazing dish, you’re going to need a couple uninterrupted hours in the kitchen. I listen to Dean Martin croon Italian love songs while I cook Italian recipes. I sip chianti or prosecco while I mince garlic and something sort of magical happens. The sounds and scents transport me to the beautiful Italian countryside. I’m no longer standing in my kitchen in Minnesota…I’m whisked away to Tuscany where I’m preparing a huge family meal that we’ll all enjoy al fresco.

preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

1 box jumbo pasta shells (I use Barilla)

1/2 lb. pancetta or bacon, fried crisp and drained well

1 lb. extra lean ground beef or sweet Italian sausage, browned

10 oz. fresh spinach, chopped, cooked, drained well

1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped fine

1 medium onion, chopped, sauteed until transparent

2 or 3 large cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated

15 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese

1 egg

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 Tablespoon dried Italian seasoning

1 Tablespoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 jars of your favorite marinara or chunky spaghetti sauce

16 oz. fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese

4-6 oz. fresh, grated Asiago cheese

Cook the pasta shells according to package directions and drain well on clean, flour sack towels. While they’re draining: Pour about 3/4 a jar of the sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 glass baking dish and pour the rest in an 8×8 glass baking dish.

prepare the filling:

In a big mixing bowl: Combine the fried, drained pancetta, browned Italian sausage, cooked-drained spinach, chopped basil, sauteed onion, minced garlic, parmesan, ricotta, egg and seasonings. Mix well.

Carefully stuff the shells with about 1 heaping Tablespoon of filling in each. Line the baking pans with the shells until all of the pasta and filling are used up. Pour the second jar of marinara over the top, covering evenly. Top with the grated/cubed, fresh mozzarella, and the fresh, grated Asiago. Cover with foil and bake for 30-45 minutes (or until the shells are completely heated through and all the cheese is melty and bubbly.) Serve with fresh basil as a garnish. Season to taste with salt and pepper. These little shells freeze beautifully.

Buon Appetito!


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  18 comments for “authentic italian stuffed pasta shells

  1. Heidi Anderson
    July 28, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Let me be the first to say THANK YOU! (and have fun with Grandma! 😉 Mine just turned 96!!! on July 10th and I can’t wait to see her next month 🙂 <3

    • Melissa
      July 28, 2011 at 2:59 pm

      you’re welcome pretty lady! have a wonderful, romantic evening with your Ethan. XO

  2. Heidi Anderson
    July 28, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks so much, I will 🙂 xo

    • Melissa
      July 28, 2011 at 3:41 pm


  3. November 14, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    My mouth is watering looking at this. Oh my goodness. This looks like heaven on a plate! Does it reheat well? Thank you so much for adding this to the Recipe of the Week! Everyone is going to love this one 🙂

    • Melissa
      November 14, 2011 at 12:51 pm

      Hi Corey! Thanks for the invite to post our recipes! These little shells reheat beautifully. Enjoy! 🙂

  4. October 15, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    Love the fennel and nutmeg. These looks so tasty! Yum!

    • Melissa
      October 15, 2012 at 11:26 pm

      Thanks Julie! enjoy 🙂

  5. November 11, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    Thank you so much for this delicious recipe! I made it tonight for my Wife & I and needless to stay, we’re both stuffed and happy. 🙂

    • Melissa
      November 11, 2012 at 5:39 pm

      Hi Erick! I’m so pleased you and the wifey enjoyed the shells 🙂 one of my favorite recipes. XO and thanks for visiting ChinDeep 🙂

  6. Sue Szablewski
    November 14, 2012 at 7:52 pm


    I am in Marquette, Iowa (the very northeast corner of the state)
    about 1 block from the Great River.

    Your stuffed shells recipe looks absolutely fabulous. I am
    having an Italian buffet and serving several other main dishes,
    but need to know approximately how many shells I will get from
    this recipe.

    Thanks so much. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

    • Melissa
      November 14, 2012 at 11:20 pm

      ooh…I can’t tell you a specific amount…but it makes approximately one box worth of the extra large shells plus the filling… (20?) maybe do a trial run and see how many you get.xo

  7. March 21, 2013 at 6:45 am

    They look perfectly delicious. How did I miss these? Will be sharing. Great story!

    • Melissa
      March 21, 2013 at 9:39 am

      Hi there Barbara! thanks so much for visiting my little corner of the internet…and for sharing my recipe! XOXO 🙂

  8. Jill
    October 25, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    My first, amazing, wonderful, beautiful granddaughter is 15 months old and my pasta is the only kind that she will eat. For her, that means this recipe! Thank you so very much for this. 🙂 Jill

    • Melissa
      October 26, 2013 at 11:05 am

      Oh my goodness! thanks for the sweet note, Jill! You made my day. I am so pleased you like the recipe. XO 🙂

  9. Jill
    October 25, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    And by the way… yes, it poops me out when she runs out of pasta!!!

    • Melissa
      January 31, 2014 at 9:07 pm

      LOL, JILL! 🙂

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