This Cheesy Stuffed Shells with Beef Recipe is the ultimate crowd pleaser! Jumbo shells are stuffed with three kinds of cheese and baked to perfection in a delicious, hearty meat sauce. This dish is surprisingly easy, using simple ingredients, but tastes like you slaved over it all day. Pair with a salad and some garlic bread and you’ll have a bunch of happy people!
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If you want a comfort food classic, you don’t have to look any further than this easy stuffed shells recipe! Jumbo shells are stuffed with three kinds of cheese and cooked in a delicious, simple meat sauce. The whole dish is topped with lots of melty cheese and baked to perfection!
In the mood for comfort food? Try my Gnocchi alla Sorrentina (Baked Gnocchi), this Easy Baked Tortellini with Sausage, this incredible 5 Ingredient Spaghetti with Bacon or this perfectly cooked Old Fashioned Pot Roast!
WHY YOU’LL LOVE THIS RECIPE
- Classic comfort food mixed with fresh flavors from fresh basil and a little lemon!
- Recipe uses simple ingredients--nothing fancy, but tastes special!
- Freezer-friendly! Make a double batch and freeze one for later!
- A great make-ahead meal. Can be made a day in advance.
You’ll need the following ingredients to make these delicious cheesy stuffed shells with beef:
Jumbo Shells: These large pasta shells can be found in most large grocery stores in the pasta aisle.
Ground Beef: I like using lean ground beef–90% lean or more.
Marinara Sauce: Use your favorite good-quality store bought marinara sauce. We love Rao’s!
Basil: Fresh basil is a must! It really freshens up this dish when combined into the ricotta mixture!
HOW TO MAKE STUFFED SHELLS WITH BEEF: STEP BY STEP
Here are some quick visual instructions. Remember that full instructions with exact ingredients will be in the recipe card below!
Step 1: Combine ingredients for the ricotta cheese filling: ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, fresh basil, salt, garlic powder and a little fresh lemon juice. Mix well and set aside.
Step 2: Make the simple ground beef meat sauce with browned ground beef, onion, garlic, oregano and jarred pasta sauce.
Step 3: Spread about 2 cups of the meat sauce into your baking dish.
Step 4: Stuff each shell with about a tablespoon of the cheese filling and layer them on top of the meat sauce. Top everything with the remaining sauce and cheese.
Step 5: Cover and bake for 20-25 minutes until sauce is bubbly!
RECIPE TIPS & TRICKS
- Since this is a hearty, heavy dish the addition of fresh basil and LEMON JUICE to the ricotta filling really brightens up this dish! The combination of fresh basil and lemon juice is divine!! The lemon juice is optional, but I never leave it out!
- Make a double batch of the meat sauce and freeze half–it’s an excellent sauce for pasta!
⭐️ CONFIDENCE TIP ⭐️
When browning ground meat, using a potato masher works so well to get the meat into nice, fine, small pieces. Start breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, then switch to your potato masher about halfway through cooking.
STORAGE & REHEATING
- Storage: Store leftovers in the baking dish, covered tightly with foil. If you plan to store for more than a day, transfer shells and sauce to an airtight container. They will last in the fridge up to 4 days.
- Reheating: The best way to reheat is in individual portions in the microwave. Cover your bowl loosely with a paper towel to prevent any spatters.
- Freezing: This dish freezes beautifully! Prepare recipe in a disposable aluminum baking pan. Cover tightly with the lid or two layers of foil. When you are ready to enjoy the dish, thaw it overnight in the fridge. Then bake at 375˚F. Note that you will need to add at least 15 minutes to the baking time if you are placing the cold shells directly in the oven from the fridge.
SUBSTITUTIONS FOR GROUND BEEF STUFFED SHELLS
Here are some easy substitutions:
- Meat: Ground turkey and chicken work well in this dish as well. Also, Italian sausage is DIVINE as a replacement for the ground beef.
- Cheese: You can absolutely use different types of cheese! I like mozzarella because it melts so well but you can also use fontina, provolone, white cheddar or an Italian cheese blend.
- Ricotta Cheese: You can substitute small curd cottage cheese for the ricotta.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Yes!!! One of a beauties of this dish is you can assemble everything up to a day in advance. When you’re ready to enjoy, just pop it in the oven! Note that you will need to add at least 15 minutes to the baking time if you are placing the cold shells directly in the oven from the fridge.
Cheesy Beef Stuffed Shells Recipe
For the sauce
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1 lb. lean ground beef
- 1 small white or yellow onion, diced about a cup
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp oregano Italian seasoning also works
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 28 oz. jar marinara sauce (or pasta sauce) Rao's is my absolute favorite!
For the stuffed shells
- 16-20 jumbo pasta shells
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, divided
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, divided
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp fresh lemon juice optional
- Cook shells: Boil jumbo shells in a large pot of water to al dente. Drain and rinse pasta under cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside. Note: Some packages say to cook shells for 12-14 minutes. I typically cook them for about 10 minutes so they are slightly undercooked, since they will be cooking a bit more in the oven as well. It also makes them easier to stuff!
- Make the ricotta filling: In a medium bowl, add ricotta cheese, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, basil, salt, garlic powder and lemon juice (if using). Stir well until all ingredients are well mixed. Set side.
- Make the meat sauce: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add olive oil. When oil is hot, add beef and cook 2-3 minutes, breaking it up with a spoon. Pro Tip: When browning ground meat, using a potato masher works so well to get the meat into nice, fine, small pieces. Start breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, then switch to your potato masher about halfway through cooking!
- Add onions, garlic and season meat with oregano, garlic powder and salt. Cook another 2-3 minutes until onion softens, then add marinara sauce. Cook a few minutes more.
- In a 9×12 baking dish, spread about two cups of the meat mixture over the bottom of the dish.
- Preheat oven: to 375˚F.
- Stuff the shells: Take a cooked shell and stuff it with a heaping tablespoon of the ricotta cheese mixture. Repeat for 16-20 shells. Place stuffed pasta shells in a single layer in the casserole dish with the sauce.
- When all shells are stuffed, pour the remaining sauce over the top of the shells. Then, top with remaining cup of mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.
- Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake 20-25 minutes until sauce is bubbling. Remove foil and broil about 3 minutes to get these cheese browned on top (optional).
- Allow a few minutes to cool then sprinkle with fresh parsley or more basil if you like and dig in!