This Cheesy Stuffed Shells with Ground 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 it with a salad and some garlic bread, and you’ll have a satisfying and comforting meal in no time!
You’ll need the following ingredients to make these delicious cheesy stuffed shells with ground beef:
Jumbo Shells: These large pasta shells can be found in most large grocery stores in the pasta aisle and they are excellent to stuff with a delicious cheesy filling.
Ground Beef: I like using lean ground beef – 90% lean or more. But if you use something less lean, you can drain excess grease or let it cook off.
Marinara Sauce: Use your favorite good-quality store-bought marinara sauce. We love Rao’s! But regular pasta sauce or your favorite brand of spaghetti sauce will work in a pinch.
Basil: Fresh basil is a must! It really freshens up this dish when combined with the ricotta mixture!
HOW TO MAKE STUFFED SHELLS WITH GROUND 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 stuffed shell filling: ricotta, shredded mozzarella, Parmesan cheese, chopped fresh basil, salt, garlic powder, and a little fresh lemon juice. Mix well and set aside.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta shells in a large pot of salted water to al dente. Drain and rinse the pasta under cold water to stop the cooking.
Step 2: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm olive oil. When the oil is hot, add beef and cook for a few minutes, breaking up the meat with a spoon. Add onions, garlic, oregano, garlic powder, and salt and cook for a 2-3 minutes or until the onion softens. Add marinara sauce and cook to heat through, stirring often.
Step 3: Into a 9×12-inch baking dish, spread about 2 cups of the meat mixture over the bottom of a baking dish.
Step 4: Stuff each cooked shell with about a tablespoon of the ricotta cheese filling and place them on top of the meat sauce in a single layer.
When all the shells are stuffed, pour the remaining sauce over the top of the shells. Top everything with the remaining cup of mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese.
Step 5: Cover the whole dish with an oven-safe lid or aluminum foil and bake for 20-25 minutes until the sauce is bubbly! Uncover and broil for 3 minutes to brown the cheese.
RECIPE TIPS & TRICKS
- Make a double batch of the meat sauce and freeze half–it’s an excellent sauce that works for a lot of pasta dishes!
- Since this is a hearty, heavy dish, adding fresh basil and lemon juice to the ricotta filling brightens it up! The combination of fresh basil and lemon juice is divine!! The lemon juice is optional, but I never leave it out!
- Cook the shells until they are al dente. Some package directions instruct you to cook them for 12-14 minutes, but I typically cook them for 10 minutes, so they are slightly undercooked. It makes it easier to stuff them, and they will finish cooking in the oven.
When browning ground meat, using a potato masher works 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 damp paper towel to avoid any splatters and prevent the reheated stuffed shells from drying out.
- Freezing: This dish freezes beautifully! Prepare the 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.
ADDITIONS & SUBSTITUTIONS
- Leafy Greens: Consider adding thinly sliced leafy greens like spinach or kale to the ground beef red sauce.
- Mushrooms: To take this hearty meal to the next level, saute some sliced mushrooms and add them to the meat mixture.
- Meat: Ground turkey or chicken work well in this dish. You can also try Italian sausage as a tasty replacement for the ground beef.
- Cheese: You can use different types of cheeses! I like mozzarella because it melts so well, but you can use any shredded cheese – try fontina, provolone, white cheddar cheese, or an Italian cheese blend.
- Ricotta cheese: Feel free to substitute small curd cottage cheese for the ricotta.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Absolutely! One of the 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.
I prefer using the shells for this easy ground beef recipe but if unavailable, you can use manicotti tubes or even lasagna noodles rolled up with the ricotta filling.
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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!