Classic Stuffed Shells

Stuffed shells.  I know there are people who love lasagna, manicotti and baked ziti, but my favorite classic Italian baked pasta dish to order out are stuffed shells.  I’m not sure what it is about shells that I love but they are pretty great.  It could be that I have yet to find a better lasagna than the one from my childhood or manicotti better than the one I learned how to make many moons ago in a pasta class, but this is the dish that I would get religiously as a kid whenever I wanted a baked pasta dish.  I even asked my mom to make it for me one time for my birthday!  I helped make the filling before she sent me off to bed (I was somewhere around 10 or 12).  The next day she informed me she regretted her decision to let me off the hook so easily…  Oh, childhood.  How I miss you.  Here’s the thing: one of the main reasons I’m writing this blog is to have a record of all my favorite recipes and this one makes the cut.  But here’s my confession: all I do is follow the back of the large shells box just like my mom did that night she made it for my birthday those many years ago.  The only major adjustment I make is to lay out the shells in tray so that I can count out how many I’ll need to have cooked at the end of the process – you don’t need the whole box when you fill the shells!  Then I add in a few more just in case one or two break in the process and move on to the next step!  Oh, and I use a home-made sauce.  How much better could it get than home-made sauce?

Ingredients for Stuffed Shells
  • 1/2 package jumbo pasta shells (8 oz. Or 24 shells)
  • Basic Red Sauce (Below)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 15 ounces Ricotta cheese (fresh recommended)
  • 2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese, half a cup held in reserve if desired
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup held in reserve if desired
  • Fresh chopped parsley – 2 to 3 tablespoons; dried parsley when not in season
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 350F.  Cook the pasta until done following the package’s directions. Mix the cheese, eggs and herbs together.  Lightly coat the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish (need tall sides: 3-4 inchs) with sauce.  Fill the cooked shells with cheese mixture and spread in a single layer along the bottom of the baking dish.  Cover with sauce with cheese held in reserve if choosing to.  Cover baking dish with tin foil and bake until bubbles start to form at edge of dish.  Remove tin foil and allow to bake for another 5 minutes until cheese is browned on top and bubbles form around most of the edges of the dish.  Total cooking time is generally between 45 minutes and an hour.

Note: a box of jumbo shells (Barilla?) contains approximately 46 shells.
Basic Red Sauce
  • EVOO
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, finely grated into pan
  • 2 cans of 28 oz whole, peeled tomatoes (or other tomato product such
  • Fresh chopped parsley – 2 to 3 tablespoons; dried parsley when not in season
  • Fresh chopped basil – 2 to 3 tablespoons; dried basil when not in season
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Pour EVOO into the pan for 4 rounds of the pan at medium heat.  Add in onion and carrots and cook until soft then add in garlic and cook for another minute or two to remove the raw flavor without burning.  Add in in tomatoes while breaking them up into small chunks.  This can be done ahead by cutting or done as they’re being added by tearing by hand.  Cook for 10-15 minutes.
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