Sausage Stuffed Shells Recipe

4.59 from 17 votes
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Sausage stuffed shells are a delicious and easy Italian appetizer or entree with very simple ingredients. They’re cheesy, creamy, savory, garlicky, and loaded with so much delicious ricotta flavor!

A wooden spoon holding a cheesy golden sausage and ricotta stuffed shell.

My stuffed shells are filled with ricotta and Parmesan cheese, ground sweet Italian sausage, fresh basil, garlic, and an optional egg. They’re baked topped with marinara and plenty of mozzarella cheese.

Why I Love this Recipe

I love this recipe because it is delicious and filling and made with such basic ingredients. It makes for a nice heavy appetizer thanks to its richness. Adding ground sausage to the ricotta filling lends some extra flavor and protein, however, you can make this recipe vegetarian by simply omitting it from the recipe.

Stuffed shells come together in about 15 active minutes of cooking and 25 minutes of baking. It’s a real crowd-pleaser the whole family will love! If you love this recipe, also check out my skillet lasagna, no-boiled baked ziti, and creamy pasta shells!

A few of my other favorite skillet Italian dishes are my gnocchi bolognese, skillet chicken parmesan, and my skillet eggplant parmesan.

Ingredients

Raw ingredients for stuffed ricotta and sausage shells organized on a cutting board.
  • Jumbo shells: jumbo shells are the largest shells offered at grocery stores. A 14 or 16-ounce box is all you need for this recipe.
  • Marinara: use your favorite jarred tomato sauce or make my favorite tomato sauce. Be sure to grab a 24-ounce jar so you have enough. I love Rao’s
  • Ground sweet or hot Italian sausage: you can also use ground beef or any combination of beef and sausage. If you can’t find ground Italian sausage, buy uncooked Italian sausages and squeeze the sausage out of the casing. I do it all the time!
  • Ricotta cheese: you will need a 15-ounce container to ensure you have enough. You won’t need the whole container.
  • Shredded mozzarella cheese: I use low-moisture mozzarella. Preshredded or not is up to you.
  • Coarsely grated parmesan cheese: I always opt for a block of parmesan cheese and grate it myself. It’s fresher and doesn’t contain extra preservatives.
  • Egg: egg is typically added to stuffed shells to give the ricotta filling more body. Since my recipe calls for ground sausage, you can skip the egg if you want.
  • Fresh garlic cloves: the garlic flavor is so fresh and aromatic in this recipe because it slowly cooks inside the filling. You can optionally roast the garlic if you want some extra sweetness.

See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities below.

Ground Beef Versus Ground Sausage

You can optionally make stuffed shells with ground beef in place of sausage. I just prefer the flavor of Italian sausage in pasta dishes—it just belongs together! The advantage of using beef is it’s easier to break into small chunks for the filling. Sausage can be a little more stubborn. If you enjoy a little heat, opt for hot/spicy Italian sausage! It’s delicious

How to Make Stuffed Shells

Step 1.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Step 2. 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta shells 1 minute before al dente, strain, and rinse with cool water to prevent overcooking.

A hand adding salt to simmering pasta water.
Uncooked jumbo pasta shells being dumped into a large pot of boiling water.

Step 3.

Meanwhile, in a cast-iron skillet, cook sausage until fully cooked through and browned. About 5-7 minutes. Use the tip of a spatula to break the sausage into the smallest chunks possible as it cooks. Season with salt and pepper to taste and remove the pan from the heat.

A metal spatula breaking up ground Italian sausage as it cooks in a cast iron skillet.
Fully cooked and browned sausage cooking in a cast iron skillet.

Step 4.

Transfer the sausage to a medium bowl with ricotta, basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and egg. Stir until fully incorporated and creamy. Place 1 cup of marinara in the bottom of the now-empty skillet.

Ricotta, sausage, cheese, raw egg, fresh basil in a bowl before mixing into a ricotta filling.
Sausage and ricotta stuffed shell filling in a bowl.
A thin later of marinara in a cast iron skillet.

Step 5.

Cut a 1-inch hole in a pastry bag or corner of a large Ziploc bag. Transfer the ricotta filling to the bag and fill each shell to the top with ricotta. You can alternatively fill shells with a spoon.

Stuffed shell ricotta fulling in a pastry bag with the tip cut off.
Squeezing sausage ricotta filling into a jumbo pasta shell over a bed of marinara.

Step 6.

Arrange shells in the skillet as tightly as possible. You can usually fit 20-22 shells in a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Top each shell with a heaping tablespoon of marinara. Layer the entire dish with about 1 cup of shredded mozzarella (more is OK too).

Unbaked sausage and ricotta stuffed jumbo shells in a cast iron skillet.
A spoon placing marinara sauce over an unbaked ricotta and sausage stuffed shell.
Unbaked ricotta stuffed shells topped with marinara and shredded mozzarella cheese.

Step 7.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cheese is fully melted and golden. Finish with a quick broil to give the cheese a little sear if desired. Let cool for 5 minutes, top with extra chopped basil, and serve immediately.

Golden baked sausage and ricotta stuffed shells in a cast iron skillet topped with fresh basil.

Expert Tips

  • If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can bake shells in a baking dish instead. If making additional, You will need to scale the ricotta filling as it’s enough for roughly 20-22 shells.
  • Finish the baking with a quick broil. It will slightly crisp the cheese and give it a beautiful golden finish. Broil on high for 1-2 minutes, watching carefully to avoid burning.
  • Cook shells just under al dente to prevent overcooking. Rinsing the shells with cool water after straining will prevent them from cooking further. This is so they don’t break apart when filling.

Easy Shell Filling

The easiest way to fill stuffed shells is with a pasty bag. This makes quick and neat work of filling the shells. The most important tip is to cut a solid inch off your pasty bag so the meat can easily slide through. Assuming your ricotta is adequately mixed, this shouldn’t be a problem.

If you don’t have a pastry bag, you can cut the corner off a large Ziploc bag or similar. You don’t need a frosting tip or anything fancy like that. You can of course use a spoon, it’s just a more manual process and gets a little messy at times.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make this meatless?

Yes, simply omit the meat from the recipe. Be sure to include the egg if omitting meat.

Do I need the egg?

No, not necessarily. The egg is typically added to stuffed shells to give the ricotta filling more body. Since my recipe calls for ground sausage, you can skip the egg if you prefer.

Why are my shells falling apart?

Don’t overcook the shells because they will continue to cook in the oven. For best results, cook shells a minute or two before al dente and rinse with cool water after straining.

Similar Pasta Recipes

Enjoy this recipe? If you made this recipe, please leave a ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ star rating in the recipe card below & a review in the comments!
4.59 from 17 votes

Sausage Stuffed Shells Recipe

Servings: 22 shells
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Total: 45 minutes
Jumbo stuffed shells filled with ground sweet Italian sausage, ricotta and parmesan cheese, fresh basil, garlic, and egg. Baked topped with marinara and melted mozzarella cheese.

Ingredients 

  • 20-22 jumbo shells, 16-ounce box
  • 24 ounces marinara
  • 14-16 ounces of ground sweet or hot Italian sausage, or ground beef
  • 1 3/4 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup coarsely grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6-7 basil leaves, chopped, plus more for garnish

Instructions 

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. 
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta shells 1 minute before al dente, strain, and rinse with cool water to prevent overcooking.
  • Meanwhile, in a cast-iron skillet, cook sausage until fully cooked through and browned. About 5-7 minutes. Use the tip of a spatula to break the sausage into the smallest chunks possible as it cooks. Season with salt and pepper to taste and remove the pan from the heat.
  • Transfer the sausage to a medium bowl with ricotta, basil, garlic, parmesan cheese, and egg. Stir until fully incorporated and creamy. Place 1 cup of marinara in the bottom of the now-empty skillet.
  • Cut a 1-inch hole in a pastry bag or corner of a large Ziploc bag. Transfer the ricotta filling to the bag and fill each shell to the top with ricotta. You can alternatively fill shells with a spoon.
  • Arrange shells in the skillet as tightly as possible. You can usually fit 20-22 shells in a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Top each shell with a heaping tablespoon of marinara. Layer the entire dish with about 1 cup of shredded mozzarella (more is OK too).
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cheese is fully melted and golden. Finish with a quick broil to give the cheese a little sear if desired. Let cool for 5 minutes, top with extra chopped basil, and serve immediately.

Notes

The easiest way to fill stuffed shells is with a pasty bag or Ziploc bag. This makes quick and neat work of filling the shells. The most important tip is to cut a solid inch off your pasty bag so the meat can easily slide through. Assuming your ricotta is adequately mixed, this shouldn’t be a problem.
If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can bake shells in a baking dish instead. If making additional, You will need to scale the ricotta filling as it’s enough for roughly 20-22 shells. There will be leftover shells in the box.
Finish the baking with a quick broil. It will slightly crisp the cheese and give it a beautiful golden finish. Broil on high for 1-2 minutes, watching carefully to avoid burning.
Cook shells just under al dente to prevent overcooking. Rinsing the shells with cool water after straining will prevent them from cooking further. This is so they don’t break apart when filling.

Nutrition

Calories: 430kcalCarbohydrates: 32gProtein: 24.6gFat: 21.6gSaturated Fat: 9.2gCholesterol: 73mgSodium: 864mgFiber: 1.4gSugar: 1.9g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
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About Shawn Williams

My name is Shawn, author behind Kitchen Swagger. I'm a food & drink enthusiast bringing you my own simple and delicious restaurant-inspired recipes.

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Recipe Rating




16 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    These are delicious! Nice change from the ricotta filling. These were a big hit! I made them in the morning, refrigerated them all day and cooked them at night.

  2. 5 stars
    This was amazing. The sauce we used was Bertolli d’Italia Marinara Sauce. We did everything the same but the pan was an All-Clad frying non-stick pan, it’s very thick and heavy. Worked great.

    I was supposed to make this dish yesterday but when your Walmart order goes to a store 2.5 hours away well, you have to wait until the next day. And the next day is the day my daughter (teen) cooks a meal once a week. She chose to make your dish. With a little help from me, she did an awesome job.

    I totally recommend this dish.

  3. Shawn-I’m a “make in advance” kind of cook. Would this filling be ok mixed together (including the sausage) and then frozen in the ziplock bag for defrosting at a later date? Thanks

  4. 5 stars
    Made this dish last night and it was fantastic! I added a small amount of chopped spinach to the cheese mixture and think that went well. Had the butcher grind up some pork butt with some fennel seasoning for the meat for the mixture. Put it together in a 9 x 13 glass dish so it did require extra baking time.
    Will definitely make this again… Love it!

  5. 5 stars
    Filling is really good. But you should NOT cook tomato sauce dishes in cast iron, it will ruin the seasoned coating on your frying pan

    1. Thanks, Joe – but that’s actually not 100% true. A well-seasoned skillet is incredibly durable and won’t be ruined by the sauce. I use my skillets with red sauces A LOT. You MAY be able to detect some metallic flavors when cooking with acids but it takes a long time and isn’t harmful, just a flavor preference.

  6. This was great! I also cooked longer since I used glass dishes. My shells might have been a little on the small side too because my filling ended up filling 31 shells!
    Very tasty though! Served with asparagus and salad.

  7. 5 stars
    This recipe was a hit! So yummy!😋
    I used 1/2 sausage and 1/2 ground beef. Increase the cook time.
    I cooked it for an hour and 15 and ended up turning the heat up to 400 the last 15 min. Then put it under the broiler for a couple of minutes.
    I used a 9×13 glass dish instead of cast iron, maybe that was why.