With your homemade ricotta in hand just waiting to be used (assuming you didn’t end up eating it all with a spoon), the only clear choice is to immediately stuff it into a cheesy, delicious pasta dish. Amiright?
Cheesy stuffed pasta shells are one of our family’s big fat favorites. This dish could probably serve more like eight moderate eaters but there are no boundaries when pasta shells appear at the table. We easily clean up the whole pan. Granted, there are seven of us, but still, my 11-year old devoured six of these all on his own last week. Six. Jumbo pasta shells. Filled to brimming with pillowy clouds of creamy ricotta. Sure, I can’t really blame him (I mean, these shells are goooood), but all I could think about as I sat there was if I’ll still have my sanity (or savings account) in six years when I’m tripling recipes like this on an average Tuesday night just to feed four hollow-legged teenage boys. Hold me.
Easy as can be, this dish is perfect for company, a take-in meal, or doable for a weeknight (especially with the make-ahead instructions I included in the notes of the recipe). That soft, creamy, and ultra-cheesy ricotta filling is out of this world, and the stovetop marinara sauce isn’t half-bad either. Actually, they’re quite perfect together. Lots of pasta, lots of sauce and lots of cheese. As you can see, there’s a lot to crush on here.
If you are in a hurry or homemade sauce isn't your jam, this recipe calls for about 4 1/2 - 5 cups marinara sauce if you want to substitute your favorite store-bought brand.
If you are using storebought ricotta cheese (especially part-skim), consider adding a tablespoon or two of milk to the filling to help achieve a creamier texture. Also, in case you are wondering, 20 jumbo pasta shells is right about half of a 20 ounce box.
To make this dish ahead of time, prepare up until baking. Cover with lightly greased foil and refrigerate for up to two days. Bake covered for 40 minutes, uncover and bake an additional 5-10 minutes. The dish can also be frozen prior to baking. Bake from frozen at 350 degrees F, covered with greased aluminum foil, for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Uncover and bake for 30-45 minutes longer until the edges are bubbling and the shells are hot throughout.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1/2 cup chopped carrots
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 8-ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 2 cups homemade ricotta or store-bought ricotta cheese (see note above)
- 1 large egg
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (about 4 ounces)
- 20 jumbo pasta shells
- Fresh basil for topping (optional)
- For the sauce, in a 4-quart pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat until hot and rippling. Add the onion, garlic, celery, carrots, salt and pepper. Cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to soften.
- Stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, dried basil, dried oregano, bay leaf and brown sugar. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Puree with an immersion blender or carefully in batches in a blender. Set aside.
- Cook the pasta shells in lightly salted boiling water for 9-10 minutes (make good use of time and do this while the sauce simmers). Drain and separate into a single layer on parchment paper (or other nonstick surface).
- In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, egg, salt, pepper, and parsley, Whisk (or beat with an electric mixer) until well-combined and the mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in the Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and lightly grease a 9X13-inch baking dish.
- Spread half of the pasta sauce in the prepared dish. Fill each shell with a couple tablespoons of the cheesy mixture (I use my #40 medium cookie scoop for super easy scooping and filling) until all the shells are filled evenly.
- Place the filled shells side-by-side in the pan. Cover with the remaining sauce.
- Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes until the edges are bubbling and the filling is hot. Sprinkle with fresh basil torn into pieces, if desired. Let sit 5-10 minutes before serving.
Recipe Source: from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe (sauce adapted from this favorite marinara recipe)