See how to make stuffed shells with meat sauce without ricotta. Italian stuffed shells are easy comfort food perfect for a quick family dinner! This beef stuffed pasta shells recipe is made with simple ingredients and 20-minute prep.
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Easy stuffed shells with meat (no ricotta)
Get ready to dig into the best ground beef pasta shells! Jumbo pasta shells are loaded with a hearty meat sauce, topped with lots of cheese, and baked to golden brown perfection. Meat and cheese stuffed shells are extremely easy to throw together, and if you have a big family, you can double or triple the recipe.
Italian pasta dishes are one of my favorite things to make during the week. My family is especially fond of these cheesy stuffed shells with meat sauce. And your family will be singing your praises, too, if you whip this up for dinner.
This is a fantastic recipe for a quick weeknight dinner or meal prep as the casserole reheats nicely. It’s also a great crowd-pleaser if you’re having a potluck or get-together and need to cook up something simple and delicious.
What are Italian stuffed shells?
Meat stuffed shells are a filling pasta dish consisting of jumbo pasta shells stuffed with a savory ground beef sauce and a gooey cheese topping. The definition of comfort food!
The pasta shells are cooked first, then stuffed with ground beef and finished in the oven. Many stuffed pasta shell recipes use ricotta and eggs, but my recipe is made without ricotta and eggs.
Why you’ll love this recipe
- Amazing flavor. If you love hearty pasta dishes, this recipe is for you. Thanks to tasty marinara sauce, Italian seasoning, and ooey cheese, this baked pasta casserole has a rich aroma and delicious combination of textures.
- Quick and easy to make. While you need to pre-boil the noodles, the actual hands-on time is not more than 20 minutes. And once the shells are filled, you just bake the casserole dish until golden. Simple!
- Great to make ahead. Meat-filled stuffed shells are perfect for meal prep, and I always make a double batch to freeze for later.
Ingredients and substitutions
I think we can all agree that homemade pasta is the best. And the most wonderful thing about these stuffed jumbo shells is that they only call for a handful of simple ingredients. So, what goes into stuffed shells with beef? Let’s break down the ingredient list:
- Jumbo pasta shells: These are the largest type of pasta shells. While I don’t usually use giant pasta shells for noodle recipes, it’s a fun change for this casserole. You can find them in the dry pasta section at your supermarket or order them online.
- Ground beef: I used ground chuck, a lean beef with 15 to 20% fat. You want your meat at room temperature. This stuffed shell casserole can be prepared with meatloaf mix or other types of ground meats as well.
- Marinara sauce is used as the base of the sauce. Make sure to choose the best-quality tomato sauce or make your own homemade marinara sauce. If you like a chunky sauce, replace part of the marinara sauce with a can of crushed tomatoes.
- Onion adds depth and infuses flavor into the meat sauce. I used a yellow onion, but red onion or shallots will also work if that’s what you have handy.
- Mozzarella: This pasta shell casserole wouldn’t be perfect without a thick blanket of melty cheese. I used shredded mozzarella for convenience, but you could definitely shred a fresh mozzarella ball. A mix of parmesan and mozzarella or another easy-to-melt cheese like cheddar, Provolone, jack, or Swiss cheese will also work.
- Spices: A combination of Italian seasoning, salt, and freshly ground pepper adds plenty of flavor to these cheese stuffed shells with meat sauce. Optionally season with fresh parsley or basil and red pepper flakes for a bit of oomph.
How to make stuffed shells with meat sauce
If you’ve never made stuffed shells with meat and cheese before, the process is super easy and only requires a few simple steps:
Step 1: Preheat the oven
- Position a baking rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F / 180° / gas mark 4.
Step 2: Boil the shells
- Fill a large pot with water and bring to a rolling boil.
- Add 1 tsp fine sea salt and boil the pasta shells according to the package instructions.
- Transfer the cooked shells into ice-cold water to stop the cooking process. Cooling makes them easier to handle and ensures the noodles won’t stick together.
Step 3: Prepare the meat sauce
- While the pasta cooks, put the ground meat into a large frying pan. Brown over medium-high heat until no longer pink.
- Add the onions and fry until translucent and fragrant, about 4 minutes.
- Add 1 cup marinara sauce, 1/2 cup cheese, and Italian seasoning- Season with salt and ground black pepper to taste. Simmer for 2 minutes to mingle the flavors.
- Making the meat sauce while you cook the shells ensures that everything is ready at the same time.
Step 4: Assemble the stuffed shells
- Spread 1 1/2 cups marinara sauce to cover the bottom of 9 in x 13 in / 22 cm x 33 cm glass or stoneware casserole dish.
- Using a spoon or cookie scoop, stuff each shell with mixture.
- Arrange the stuffed shells in your baking dish.
- Spoon the rest of the marinara sauce on top of the shells and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
Step 5: Bake
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. It’s done when the cheese is melted and looks golden brown.
Step 6: Serve
- Serve warm garnished with fresh basil or parsley. Enjoy!
Tips for the best stuffed shells recipe
- Use a cookie scoop to fill the shells. A cookie scoop makes stuffing the pasta quick and less messy. It also guarantees that each noodle holds the same amount of meat sauce.
- Don’t overfill the pasta shells. The trick to filling jumbo pasta shells is to not overstuff the shells. 1 tablespoon filling per noodle is enough.
- No need to cover with foil. Some meat stuffed shells recipes instruct to cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. This step isn’t necessary with my recipe. The pasta and meat sauce are already cooked through, and the only thing left is for the cheese to melt.
- Add garlic for extra flavor. I wanted to keep the ingredient list as short as possible. Still, you can include 1 to 2 minced garlic cloves for extra aroma when adding the onion.
What goes good with stuffed shells?
Meat stuffed pasta shells are quite filling and a great one-dish meal, so you don’t really need anything else to go with it. However, I like to serve homemade stuffed shells with buttery garlic bread or breadsticks and a leafy, crisp salad on the side to complete our dinner.
Storage instructions for beef stuffed shells
How to store leftover stuffed pasta shells with ground beef
Store leftover beef stuffed shells in an airtight food container in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.
Can you make meat stuffed ahead?
Yes! Prepare the components and assemble the whole dish in advance. Cover the baking dish tightly with plastic wrap/cling film and store it in the fridge for 2 to 3 days. Then just bake when it’s time to eat.
Can I freeze stuffed shells?
Yes, this baked pasta dish freezes beautifully. Here are some tips for freezing stuffed pasta shells with meat sauce:
- Make-ahead freezer meal: If you want to make this ahead, assemble the ground beef stuffed shells as outlined but skip the baking step. Cover the dish and freeze for 2 to 3 months.
- Freeze leftovers: Let leftovers cool, then place them in a freezer-safe container and set in the freezer. I usually portion the pasta into individual servings.
How to reheat frozen stuffed shells
- Thaw: Allow to thaw in the fridge overnight before baking. You could also bake it from frozen, but the cooking time will be longer.
- Reheat: If previously baked, warm leftovers in the microwave until heated through. If pre-assembled but not yet baked, bake at 350°F / 180°C / gas mark 4 as indicated in the recipe.
Ground beef stuffed shells FAQ
How many does this stuffed shells recipe serve?
The recipe yields 6 servings, but the exact number depends on the portion size.
How many stuffed shells is a serving?
3 shells make up 1 serving.
What are large pasta shells called?
Pasta shells are called “conchiglie” in Italian. Most brands refer to them as “jumbo shells” or “jumbo pasta shells.”
How long do you cook jumbo pasta shells?
Jumbo shells need to cook a bit longer than other types of pasta. It can take 9 to 16 minutes. Please refer to the instructions on the packaging to see the exact cooking time. Watch the cooking time, so they don’t overcook and become mushy.
Do I really have to pre-cook the pasta shells?
Yes, because pasta shells won’t cook through otherwise. It’s also easier to stuff soft noodles than dry ones.
Can I use ground sausage in place of ground beef?
Absolutely! If desired, swap out the ground chuck for the same amount of ground Italian sausage or mix half sausage and half beef.
Can I make this with plain tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes?
Of course! Unseasoned tomato sauce or canned crushed tomatoes allows you to season the sauce base from scratch.