We adore the classic ricotta cheese and spinach stuffed pasta shells, but it’s a dish you can easily find in the frozen food section at your local grocery store (although they won’t be as good as the homemade kind). However, we wanted to make something a little more interesting, so we decided to do some experimenting and the result is this wonderful recipe that features a new twist on the classic dish. This one is stuffed with ricotta cheese, prosciutto and peas and then covered in delicious red sauce and Parmesan cheese and baked to perfection.
This great stuffed shells recipe offers the sweetness of peas, the creaminess of ricotta cheese and the saltiness of prosciutto crudo, which to us is a combination made in heaven. With just a few ingredients in this absolutely delicious recipe, you can make it to bring to a potluck, for a large party, or as a complete dinner that you and your family will thoroughly enjoy. Keep reading to learn all about the kitchen equipment and ingredients you will need, how quick and easy it is to prepare and the step-by-step instructions to make the stuffed shells recipe it at home.
What do you need to make this recipe?
To make this stuffed shells recipe you will need the following kitchen equipment:
Pasta drainer or colander to drain the cooked shells
Piping bag or pastry filling bag to make filling the shells even easier
With a prep time of about 30 minutes and a baking time of about the same, this recipe will make your meal prep a cinch. The recipe is so good, even my picky toddler loves it! And even better, it is so simple that your toddler can even help you stuff the shells.
What ingredients do you need to make ricotta stuffed shells?
This recipe calls for just a few delicious Italian ingredients that are easy to find at your local grocery store.
Jumbo pasta shells (1 pack) – called conchiglioniin Italian, these pasta shells can be found in most supermarkets, but if you are having trouble finding them you can consider substituting with manicotti pasta. Remember to look for the word “jumbo” or “large” on the packaging, because if not you could end up purchasing the regular sized shells which are too small to stuff and would not work well with this recipe.
Fresh ricotta cheese (10 oz. | 283.5 g) – a very important part of this delicious stuffed shells recipe is the ricotta filling and the quality of the ricotta cheese is paramount to this. Try to find the freshest ricotta with the lightest consistency (ricotta shouldn’t be overly compacted). If you have food allergies or restrictions, you can look for alternatives to regular ricotta such as skimmed milk ricotta or tofu ricotta. Some recipes might mention substituting cottage cheese or cream cheese for ricotta cheese, but we don’t recommend this as the flavors and textures are quite different and the recipe will not taste right.
Frozen petite peas (8 oz. | 226.8 g) – we recommend small “petite” peas for their sweeter flavor and softer skin. If you do not like peas, you can consider substituting with frozen spinach or fresh spinach which is the most classic recipe for stuffed shells that we mentioned previously.
Prosciutto (8 oz. | 226.8 g) – you can use a good quality ham or Italian prosciutto crudo and chop it roughly. If you are not a fan of prosciutto, you can substitute with ground beef or Italian sausage or even leave the meat out entirely to make a vegetarian dish.
Shallot (1) – we recommend shallots instead of onions because they have a milder flavor, but if all you have is a small red or yellow onion that will work as well.
Olive oil – a great extra virgin olive oil is a must-have in the pantry, so be sure to have one on hand for making this recipe and ensuring the best taste possible! We do not recommend substituting with other oils, but if you must pick a neutral flavored oil like sunflower seed oil so that the taste of the overall dish is not altered.
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (4 tablespoons) – we love the taste of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, but you can also substitute with Grana Padano or even Parmesan cheese if necessary. If you want an even richer dish, you could substitute with grated mozzarella cheese or use Parmigiano Reggiano in the filling and grate the mozzarella cheese on top.
San Marzano tomatoes (12 oz. | 340.2 g) – you can use either fresh or canned San Marzano tomatoes or another plum tomato. Be sure to crush the tomatoes up before cooking them in the sauce so that they break down very well in the pan. You do not want big chunks of tomatoes in the finished sauce. In fact, if you prefer, you can make a marinara sauce by starting with tomato puree instead of whole or crushed tomatoes, so that the marinara sauce is even smoother.
Garlic (3) – while we are huge garlic lovers, we know that everyone doesn’t feel the same way, so if you are not a fan of garlic you can certainly leave it out. If you don’t have any fresh garlic on hand, you can substitute with a dash of garlic powder, but use with caution as garlic powder can easily overpower the flavors of a dish if used in excess.
Fresh basil (1/2 cup) – a basil plant is one of the easiest plants to grow in the garden or even on a windowsill in your kitchen. If you don’t have fresh basil, buy a large bunch at the supermarket and when you get home rinse the basil well, gently pat dry and then wrap the bunch in a wet paper towel and store in a plastic bag until you are ready to use it for this recipe.
Salt – for this recipe you will need both fine salt, for seasoning the dish at the various stages, as well as coarse salt that you will put in the boiling pasta water to cook the shells. We love coarse sea salt for this purpose!
Pepper – while using packaged ground pepper is fine, there is something special about grinding pepper directly into wonderful recipes to give them that extra kick of flavor that only freshly ground pepper gives.
Step-by-step how to make stuffed shells recipe
The stuffed shells recipe is really fun to make, so consider having the kids join you in the kitchen, especially for the actual stuffing of the shells! Then they will be even more enthusiastic about devouring this recipe after it’s out of the oven and on their plates.
Fill a large pot with water and put it on the stove to boil.
Add a generous amount of coarse salt to the water.
As soon as the water comes to a rolling boil, add the jumbo shells and cook until they are very al dente, so only for 6 or 7 minutes (remove several minutes before the time listed for al dente on the package instructions).
Drain the pasta shells in a colander and put them all in a bowl and drizzle with oil so they don’t get stuck together. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest.
Now for the filling, you will need to heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until they become translucent, about 3 minutes.
You now add the peas, and then salt and pepper to taste, and stir to combine. Add 1/4 cup of water to the peas and cook until the water is completely absorbed, stirring regularly, which will take approximately 8 minutes.
Transfer the cooked peas to a large food processor and then add the ricotta, prosciutto and half the grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Blend the ricotta mixture until it becomes creamy.
Transfer the ricotta mixture to the refrigerator and let the filling chill for at least 10 minutes.
Next you will make the tomato sauce by first heating the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the chopped garlic and cook for about 3 minutes.
Now add the tomatoes, basil and salt and bring to a simmer, stirring often.
Lower the heat and cover to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomato sauce becomes thick and uniform.
Remove from heat and let the tomato sauce rest.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
The last part of the preparation process is stuffing the shells with the ricotta filling and arranging them in the casserole dish for baking. You will start by spreading two ladles of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a large oven-safe baking dish or casserole dish.
Stuff shells with the ricotta filling one by one and place them filling side up in the casserole dish. See our expert tips for instructions on how to fill the shells with a piping bag, pastry bag or even just a ziplock bag with the corner cut off.
When all the stuffed shells are in the casserole dish, spread the remaining sauce in between the jumbo shells and add a dusting of the remaining Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano or Parmesan cheeses or other cheese mixture. You can even add mozzarella cheese if that is your preference.
Bake at 375º for 30 to 35 minutes, or until bubbling hot.
Expert tips for making baked stuffed shells
Here are some expert tips for making the stuffed shell recipe come out exactly like you want!
Expert tip for reducing calories: You can reduce the calories in the dish by using skim milk ricotta instead of full fat milk ricotta and the flavor is almost exactly the same.
Expert tip for filling the shells: You can use a piping bag or pastry bag to stuff the shells, just be sure that the opening is large enough for the ricotta mixture to come out of. If you don’t have a pastry bag here is a DIY hack for making one quickly and cheaply at home. First take a medium sized ziplock bag, and fill it with the mixture, leaving one corner at the bottom of the bag empty. When the bag is full (except for the one corner), close the top of the ziplock bag and then diagonally cut the corner that you left empty. You can now use the bag to easily fill your shells by lightly squeezing the back of the bag as the mixture comes out the bottom corner into the shell.
If you can’t find Italian prosciutto or ham, or you simply don’t like the taste, you can certainly substitute with other meat such as ground beef or Italian sausage for an even stronger flavor.
If you would like to make this recipe vegetarian, simply leave out the prosciutto, the recipe will be delicious just the same! Or you can consider substituting the ham with shredded zucchini. Grate two large zucchinis or four small zucchinis with a large grater. Add the grated zucchini to the sauce pan with the shallots and simmer for several minutes. Then proceed with the recipe as described.
You can also make this recipe into a vegan dish by using tofu ricotta instead of regular ricotta and then leaving out all other cheeses. Consider sprinkling the top with breadcrumbs, some Italian seasoning and a little chopped parsley to give it some additional flavor.
How to store the ricotta stuffed shells once cooked
After the ricotta stuffed shells have been baked in the baking dish, they should be eaten warm. If you have leftover shells, instead of transferring them to an airtight container, you can leave them in the baking dish and cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours. See below for how to reheat shells.
Can ricotta stuffed shells be frozen?
It may seem like a paradox, because there are plenty of frozen stuffed shells in the frozen food section of the grocery store, but we do not recommend freezing stuffed shells you have prepared yourself at home. The ones you buy at the grocery store undergo a different method of preparation and are made to be frozen and defrosted. However, when you freeze the ones you made at home they do not defrost well and end up getting mushy after being reheated.
How to reheat ricotta stuffed shells recipe
The stuffed shells can be removed from the refrigerator and reheated by removing the plastic wrap and covering the area of the baking dish that does not have any pasta shells left with tin foil and then baking in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Consider adding any remaining sauce around the stuffed jumbo shells or sprinkling some freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top before baking to brighten up the dish.
Can I make this recipe ahead of time?
Yes, you can make this stuffed shells recipe ahead of time, up to 24 hours, by following all the steps except the final steps of adding the Parmesan cheese and baking the dish. Cover the unbaked shells in the baking dish with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Remove from the refrigerator, remove the plastic wrap, sprinkle with your selected cheese and then put in the preheated oven for the time indicated in the recipe card.
Stuffed Shells Recipe with Ricotta, Prosciutto And Peas
This recipe will soon become your family's favorite dish! It combines a few key ingredients to create a creamy and flavorful pasta casserole that is perfect for serving large families or groups.
Put a large pot of water on to boil. Add a generous amount of salt to the water. When it is boiling, add the jumbo pasta shells and cook until they just start to soften and are not quite al dente, about 6 or 7 minutes (remember to remove several minutes from the length of time mentioned on the package directions because they will finish cooking when you bake them in the oven).
Drain the pasta shells and put them in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil to avoid having them stick together. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside.
For the Filling
Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes.
Add the peas, salt and pepper and stir to combine.
Add 1/4 cup of water and cook until completely absorbed, so for about 8 minutes, stirring continuously.
Transfer the pea mixture to a food processor, add the ricotta, prosciutto and half of the Parmigiano into the food processor bowl.
Blend in the food processor until the mixture becomes creamy.
Transfer the mixture into the refrigerator and let the filling rest for at least 10 minutes.
For the Tomato Sauce
Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the chopped garlic and cook for about 3 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, basil and salt and bring to a simmer, stirring often.
Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes until thick.
Remove from heat and let it rest.
Assembling and baking instructions
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Spread two ladles of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a large baking dish or casserole dish.
Stuff all the shells with the filling and place them filling side up.
Spread the remaining marinara sauce in between the shells and sprinkle with the remaining Parmigiano Reggiano or Parmesan cheese.
Bake at 375º for 30 to 35 minutes, or until bubbling.