The stuffed baked shells are made with tomato sauce and a creamy filling fusing the delicate taste of ricotta with the appetizing flavor of the meat sauce.
Shells, or Conchiglioni as the Italian name it, are a pasta shape that ignites the imagination: they lend themselves to being packed with the most appetizing ingredients. Filled patiently one by one, the stuffed shells will be fought over to the last. They are succulent, aromatic, and simply finger-licking.
Baked shells are an easy recipe also ideal to prepare in advance and assemble or bake on the spot. The secret to a perfect result is to use high-quality pasta shells, which perfectly hold the cooking. Also, quality pasta shells do not fall apart upon boiling and it is easy to stuff them. This time I chose to prepare shells stuffed with meat, ricotta, and spinach, all coated in tomato sauce. If you choose to make this recipe and follow my indications, you will get succulent and tasty baked stuffed shells soft to the bite, but not mushy! Perfect as a first course on Sunday, baked shells are great for special occasions and holidays. However, they also perfect for standing buffets and birthday parties. Baked shells are excellent not only hot and racy but also cold and the day after.
Ingredients for baked shells
The list of ingredients may seem a bit overwhelming, but I promise it all makes sense when you take things step by step. First, the ingredients for the baked shells can be found at any grocery store at an accessible price. I will divide the list of ingredients needed for the recipe into four groups for you to visually understand what goes where. Here we go:
- Pasta shells or Conchiglioni. These are a very large type of pasta perfect to hold any filling you wish.
- For the meat base:
- 1 Lb ground meat. Use pork or beef or simply combine the two
- 2-3 garlic cloves
- 1 onion. I used shallots because this is my favorite type of onion
- 3 tbsp olive oil to brown the meat, onion, and garlic
- 1 tsp ground pepper
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup red wine
3. For the cheese filling:
- ricotta cheese 8 oz
- eggs 2
- shredded mozzarella cheese 1 cup
- parsley to be chopped 1 handful
- granulated garlic 1 tsp
- salt 1 tsp
4. Spinach about 6-7 oz and tomato sauce about 18 oz
Stay connected as I will explain in detail what to do with so many ingredients and how to get the most delicious baked shells. Although it may seem burdensome, I promise the preparation is undemanding and in a matter of 30 minutes maximum you will be sending the shells to the oven.
How to boil the shells?
Pour some fresh water into a pan, add 2 tsp of salt to it, and bring it to a boil. Cook the pasta shells al dente, according to the package instructions. When they’re almost done, drain the water and rinse with cold water. Let then stay in cold water for a few seconds to stop the cooking. Also, by immersing the shells in cold water, you make sure they will not stick to each other and will remain whole. Finally, drain the cold water and set it aside, you will need them a bit later.
How to saute the ground meat for baked shells?
Before proceeding to the actual cooking, you first need to turn on your oven and preheat it at 360 degrees. It will get to the right temperature in the time you’ll be preparing the fillings.
For this step of the preparation, you will need a good skillet, you can use the no-sticking skillet if you have one. Heat it up, pour in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and add the minced garlic and onion. Saute until translucent, which should not take longer than 3-4 minutes. Then add the minced meat. Crush the meat using a silicone or wood spoon to get very small granules of meat. Season the mixture with salt, pepper, and paprika. Cook for about 10 minutes, remember to stir continuously. Finally, pour in the red wine and let it evaporate. You will feel a mesmerizing aroma already. Let the meat cook for 2-3 more minutes then take the skillet off the stove. Congrats, you are ready with the first step. See, it wasn’t hard at all. Let’s get to the second part – the cheese filling.
How to make the cheese filling for baked shells?
For this part, you will need a large bowl to mix in all the ingredients. Now put in the ricotta cheese, the shredded mozzarella cheese, and crack in 2 eggs. Finely chop one handful of parsley and add it to the cheese, then season everything with a bit of salt and granulated garlic. You may use a spoon or do it like our grannies did – use your hands.
At this point, the second part of the preparation is also done. The cheese filling is ready, therefore, set it aside next to the skilled with meat and get to the third part – the spinach.
How to saute spinach for the baked shells?
Wash the spinach, drain the water by using in a salad spinner and chop it using a sharp knife. Heat up a skillet, add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and when it’s well heated, put in the spinach. Mix for about 30 seconds, then add in 1 cup of tomato sauce. Let the sauce come to a boil then turn off the stove. The spinach and tomato sauce filling is ready. How simple was that?
How to cook the baked shells?
Now that you’re done cooking all the fillings separately, it is time to fuse them. Mix the meat, cheese filling, and spinach filling in one large bowl. Mix well and take a sip of your glass of wine, you deserved it!
As the filling is ready and the pasta shells are cooked, let’s get to the final part. Take a baking pan and pour in 1/2 cup tomato sauce or just enough to cover the bottom. Then use a spoon to fill one pasta shell at a time and carefully place it over the tomato sauce in the baking dish. Repeat the procedure until the dish is full of deliciously stuffed pasta shells.
At this point pour 1 cup of tomato sauce over the stuffed shells and sprinkle with grated parmesan. Transfer the baking tray to the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden on top.
How to store baked shells?
Stuffed baked shells can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, however, it is preferable not to freeze them. You can prepare some of the mixtures the day before such as the sauce and the minced meat cooked in a pan. It is best to prepare the complete filling just before stuffing the shells.
- Try different cheeses to make your stuffed baked shells. I used the cow ricotta, but the buffalo ricotta, which is rich and savory, or the sheep one, which is more acidulous, will be equally good.
- Instead of minced pork, you can also add sweet bacon beaten with a knife or crumbled sausage paste.
- Another tasty variant is the white version without tomato sauce – just flavor with creamy béchamel.
Stuffed Baked Pasta Shells
- baking dish
- 8 oz pasta shells or about 20 pieces
- 1 lb minced meat beef or pork
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- 1 medium onion
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup red wine dry
- 8 oz ricotta
- 1 cup mozzarella shredded
- 2 eggs
- 1 handful parsley chopped
- 1 tsp granulated garlic
- 6 oz spinach
- 2 cans tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup parmesan shredded
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- Preheat oven at 360 degrees
- Cook the pasta shells al dente, according to the package instruction. Drain, rinse in cold water, and set aside
- In a skillet, saute the chopped onion and garlic in hot olive oil for about 4 minutes
- Add the minced meat, fry it for about 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and paprika. Always stir and crush the meat chunks
- Deglaze the meat with 1/2 cup red wine. Cook for about 3 minutes and remove skillet from the stove.
- Use a large bowl to mix in the ricotta, mozzarella, eggs and chopped parsley
- Season with granulated garlic and mix to an even texture
- Heat up a skillet with 1-2 tbsp of olive oil
- Wash, drain and chop the spinach leaves
- Saute the spinach for 30 seconds and add 1/2 cup of tomato sauce
- Bring it to a boil then turn off the stove
Stuffed pasta shells filling
- Use a large bowl to mix the meat, cheese, and spinach preparations
- Pour about 1/2 cup tomato paste on the bottom of a baking dish
- Stuff the pasta shells with the filling one by one using a spoon and carefully place it in the baking dish
- Fill in the baking tray and pour 1 cup of tomato paste on top of the shells
- Sprinkle the top with grated parmesan then insert into the oven to bake at 360 degrees for 20-25 minutes
- Take out the baking dish and let the stuffed shells rest for about 10 minutes before serving