Easy Stuffed Shells with Marinara Sauce is a delicious make-ahead pasta entrée with not one, but three kinds of cheeses: ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan, and the most wonderful homemade marinara sauce ever!
This recipe for Easy Stuffed Shells with Marinara Sauce is great for “Meatless Monday,” is kid-friendly, and because you can make it ahead, it’s perfect to serve at a dinner party. These ricotta stuffed shells are also the very definition of comfort food and like most pasta dishes, are even better, if that is possible, as leftovers the next day.
I recently visited my daughter Ashley and favorite son-in-law Randy in Pensacola, and while Ashley and Randy are both excellent cooks, Randy made this scrumptious stuffed pasta shell dish for our dinner. It was love at first bite! I begged him for his recipe, but like so many great cooks, he said he really didn’t have a written recipe, he just added some of this and a dash of that. He did, however, give me the basics and I think I have come pretty close to recreating his delicious entrée!
Randy also makes his own marinara sauce, and while it sounds intimidating, don’t worry, you won’t believe just how easy it actually is. You might even never buy the jarred stuff again. The tomato goodness shines through, and you feel like you are eating juicy fresh summery tomatoes. Of course, if you are short on time, you can substitute a jar of prepared marinara sauce, but I hope you will at least try this easy homemade sauce. It will make a believer out of you!
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How to make Easy Stuffed Shells with Marinara Sauce
You will need the following ingredients to make Easy Stuffed Shells with Marinara Sauce: jumbo pasta shells, mozzarella, parmesan, and ricotta cheeses; eggs, canned San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, fresh garlic, and spices: crushed red pepper flakes, nutmeg, kosher salt, ground black pepper, garlic powder, and dried parsley. You will also need fresh basil.
To make the homemade marinara sauce pour tomatoes and juice into a large bowl and squish with your hands or use a potato masher to roughly mash the tomatoes. Do leave some chunks of tomato.
Add about 1 1/2 cups of water to the tomato mixture and stir to combine.
Add the olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic. Cook for about 30 seconds or until you can smell the garlic (do not let the garlic brown).
Add the tomato mixture, red pepper flakes, and salt. Stir to combine.
Place the fresh basil sprigs in the sauce and stir to submerge. Simmer the sauce for 15-30 minutes, or until it has thickened. Stir occasionally. Once it has thickened, taste and add more salt if needed. Remove the basil sprigs and set the sauce aside.
To make the stuffed pasta shells, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Add the pasta shells to a large pot of boiling salted water. Cook the shells for 8 minutes, stirring gently every few minutes. Drain the shells and place open side down on paper towels or a clean dish towel.
Add the 1-1/4 cup of mozzarella cheese, 1-1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, the ricotta cheese, eggs, nutmeg, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and dried parsley to a large bowl and stir to combine.
Stuff the shells with the cheese mixture. (I tried three methods and the easiest, at least for me, was holding the open shell in one hand and then using a teaspoon to pack the cheese mixture into the shell. Alternatively, you can add the cheese mixture to a piping bag and pipe it into the shells, or add the cheese mixture to a large plastic storage bag, snip off one corner, and pipe in the shells.)
To assemble the casserole, when all of the shells are filled, spray a large baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
Spread a thin layer of the marinara sauce on the bottom of the dish and place the shells open side up in a single layer in the sauce.
Pour the rest of the sauce over the shells and top with the reserved mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
Cover loosely with aluminum foil or a lid and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake uncovered for 5-10 minutes or until the cheese is puffed and golden.
Garnish with chopped basil and serve immediately.
Tips and Frequently Asked Questions:
*What are San Marzano tomatoes? San Marzano tomatoes are only grown in the rich volcanic soil in Italy at the base of Mount Vesuvius, which gives them a sweet flavor and low acidity. These canned tomatoes, which are similar to Roma tomatoes, are prized for their great flavor and texture and make a spectacular marinara sauce.
How long will stuffed shells last in the fridge? If you are making this dish ahead, cover the dish tightly, and you can store it in the fridge for up to 3 days.
How long will this stuffed shell casserole last in the freezer? This stuffed shell casserole will still be fine if frozen for up to 3 months.
Can I freeze just the stuffed shells? Yes! Make the stuffed shells as directed and place them on a baking sheet not touching each other. Place the baking sheet loosely covered in the freezer for an hour or so. When the shells are frozen, just pop them in a large plastic storage bag, and you can take out as many as you need whenever you need them.
What to serve with Easy Stuffed Shells with Marinara Sauce? I served the delicious stuffed shells with a tossed green salad.
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