Stuffed Shells Recipe

A stuffed shells recipe made with lemon zest and bright tomato sauce. Classic, with a hint of a twist. Everyone loves them.

Stuffed Shells

Wayne loves stuffed shells - straight up, red sauced, ricotta-stuffed snails of baked deliciousness. I made them five years ago, when we moved from our apartment a few blocks south of where we currently live, and I baked a batch the other night. They've made appearances on our table dozens of times in between. Said another way, as far as pasta recipes are concerned, stuffed shells are just straight-up crowd pleasers, and couldn't be simpler to make!

Stuffed Shells Recipe
When I originally post this, I admitted stuffed shells were a bit of a cheat for a first-night meal. I did all the prep ahead of time, and then drove the shells up the street in the backseat of our car. But, man, did they hit the spot after an incredibly long day. And it was no big deal to make them.Stuffed Shells Recipe
Although most of the kitchen was packed up, I was able to made a quick pot of my favorite tomato sauce a couple days prior. The day before the move, I made the ricotta mixture, filled each shell, and arranged them in a big baking dish. All I had to do is get them to the new apartment intact, and wash a mixing bowl and spoon.
Stuffed Shells Recipe
You fill each shell with a generous dollop of the ricotta mixture. The shells are nested in a baking dish coated with simple tomato sauce. More of the sauce goes on top, and then everything is baked.Stuffed Shells Recipe

Stuffed Shells: A Few Tips and Techniques

The sauce: I like to make these shells with lemon zest in the filling and in the sauce. Not typical, but really tasty. The sauce I use is basically this five-minute tomato sauce. It's great here, on pizza, on just about everything. I love the pop of heat you get from the red pepper flakes in the sauce.

Individual Portions: You can bake the shells family-style, in one big pan, as pictured here. But, you can also bake them in individual portions in ramekins, gratin dishes, or Staubs, if you like.

Filling Ideas: Play around with the ricotta filling too - sometimes I add chopped olives, or chopped spinach, herbs, roasted seasonal vegetables, etc.

Stuffed Shells Recipe

A Kid-friendly Recipe

Kids love filling the shells, and then lining them up side by side in the baking dish. It's a great recipe to get the whole family involved. Enjoy! -h

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Stuffed Shells Recipe

4.24 from 34 votes

As I mention up above, you can make the components for this a couple days ahead of time if needed - i.e. sauce, filling. Also, you won't be able to fit 25-30 shells in your pan, but a few are always casualties of the boil, so I call for more than you'll likely need.

  • zest of one lemon
  • 1/3 cup / 80 ml extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • scant 3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 4 medium cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 28- ounce can crushed red tomatoes
  • 1 14- ounce can crushed red tomatoes
  • 1 15- ounce container ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1 cup / ~5 oz grated mozzarella
  • 1 bunch of chives, minced
  • 25-30 jumbo dried pasta shells
  1. Oil a 13 x 9-inch / 33 x 23-cm baking pan, or equivalent, and sprinkle the zest of 1/2 the lemon across it. Set aside. Get a big pot of water boiling, and preheat your oven to 350F / 180C with a rack in the middle.
Make the Sauce
  1. To make the sauce, combine the olive oil, red pepper flakes, sea salt, and garlic in a cold saucepan. Stir while you heat the saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute just 45 seconds or so until everything is fragrant - you don't want the garlic to brown. Now stir in the tomatoes and heat to a gentle simmer, just a minute or two. Remove from heat and carefully take a taste (you don't want to burn your tongue)...If the sauce needs more salt add it now. Let cool.
Make the Filling
  1. To make the filling, combine the ricotta, egg, and salt in a medium bowl. Mix until combined, then stir in the mozzarella, remaining lemon zest, and 3/4 of the chives. Set aside.
  2. Cook the shells according to package instructions in well-salted water - until al dente. If you overcook, the shells will tear as you attempt to fill them. Drain and let cool long enough to handle with your hands - see photo.
  1. Spread 1/3 of sauce across the bottom of the prepared pan. Fill each shell with ricotta, and arrange in a single layer in the pan. Ladle the remaining sauce over the shells, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, uncover for the final 15 minutes or until the shells are cooked through. Sprinkle with the remaining chives and serve hot.
Prep Time
30 mins
Cook Time
45 mins
Total Time
1 hr 15 mins
If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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Recipe Rating


Congratulations on the move, Heidi :) These shells are nearly identical to some I made in January. So comforting :)


H - There must be something in the air! I was just putting together a few recipes for dairy free stuffed shells. I was snacking on a few bites of a creamy mushroom quinoa stuffed shell platter that I made tonight. But I must say, the addition of lemon zest in a classic ricotta in yours is just a reminder of how good the classic version of stuffed shells really is! Thank you! + Congrats on the move!

Noelle @

I didn't realize I was craving stuffed shells until I read this.... one of my favorite meals growing up, thanks for this recipe and the reminder. (Also, the new place looks brilliant!)


This looks so satisfying. I'd love to eat these with my family.

a Teenage Gourmet

I made some stuff shells the other day and just couldn't figure out how to photograph them. And then, look here at your beautiful photos. Congratulations on the move end competition and now let the enjoyment begin!

Snippets of Thyme

Holy Crap! I always do my stuffed shells with lemon zest, too! I thought I was all alone. If anyone reads this comment, I totally second the lemon zest.

Jessica@Honestly Good Food

Pasta is the perfect first night meal. The shells look so yummy and comforting. I always love the first meal in a new house. Now it's your home!

la domestique

Stuffed shells were major comfort food for me growing up -- I'd forgotten all about that, however, untill I read this post! I'm 99% sure our version was bought pre-assembled in the freezer section of the grocery store, to be covered in tomato sauce and baked. I'd never thought of making a homemade version 'til now -- easy as lasagna and you get automatic portion control to boot! Now, to track down gluten-free large pasta shells . . .

Coco aka Opera Girl



Your recipes ALWAYS make me think - that's what I'll make tomorrow! Yum. Congrats on the new place!


Beautiful pics, even better recipe!

Blog is the New Black

I am crazy about stuffed shells. They look amazing! I like them straight up, too; sauce, ricotta, and a little mozzarella. So good! Haven't had any in awhile, totally inspired to make them now.

J3nn (Jenn's Menu and Lifestyle Blog)

This sounds like such a comforting meal. I've actually never made stuffed shells but you make it sound so easy and look so delicious - as usual! I'm trying to cook with as little heat as possible these days since it's just so dang hot, but these just may be worth it :) (And those snapshots of the apartment look absolutely gorgeous! Can't wait to see more!)

Hannah at FleurDeLicious

Those stuffed shells look so cute! And what a simple, yet hearty and satisfying recipe. We're going to an Italian themed potluck tomorrow night, maybe I'll make these :) Thanks!

Anjali Shah

Mmm this is such comfort food! Love this.


When I was a kiddo we used to have stuffed shells on a regular basis. My brother and I always got excited when we knew that's what was for dinner. Ours had spinach stirred into the ricotta mixture back when we thought we 'didn't like spinach'. Best part about this dish is that componants can be made ahead. Love that.

mary (what's cookin with mary)

I forgot to sign in for the last post...

Sue Moran

What a wonderful post. I know what you are feeling...the thrill of the new apartment mixed with the angst of moving on from a beloved space. The stuffed shells seem perfect, and I love the photos. Good luck in your new home.


Heidi, so very happy for you. What a glorious place to call home. Much happiness to you and Wayne and all those you invite into this lovely space. Baked shells, an old friend welcoming you into a new place. Perfect.


Stuffed shells are the reason I am thinking about making dinner now...I just don't know if there's anything else I could eat now that I've seen this!


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