This easy Italian Sausage Stuffed Shells recipe is down home Italian comfort food. Hearty and thick, this recipe combines creamy ricotta, melty cheeses, Spinach and Italian sausage for a family favorite Italian dinner! Includes tips and a how-to video!
One of the most popular recipes on the site! This is truly the BEST and original Sausage Stuffed Shells recipe. Like my family, you are going to love its thick, flavorful layers with the creamiest filling ever, and its hot, bubbly, golden cheese topping. The layers meld perfectly into one another for a family favorite that never fails.
We love great pasta dishes like Beef Cannelloni, Taco Stuffed Shells, and Bruschetta Chicken. In fact, I make them year-round because it’s one of those great dinners that works so well when we have company and it’s always a hit. Serve our pasta recipes hot with some crusty garlic bread or a crisp side salad.
Stuffed Shells with Meat is one of my specialties. I make this recipe often – for everyday purposes, as a freezer standby and gatherings that need an easy but elegant recipe to feed a crowd!
I’ve been making this recipe for well over a decade because it checks all my boxes:
- Extremely forgiving in its preparation! It’s about as close to a no-fail as any recipe I’ve ever developed.
- Made with easy to find ingredients and pantry staples.
- That melty, bubbly cheese layer. Just Divine!
- So much flavor! It’s like a lasagna, but BETTER and EASIER TO MAKE!
- Excellent food for gatherings – big batch recipe, stays fresh even hours after cooking it.
What You Will Need
Here is an overview of the ingredients you will need to make the stuffed pasta shells.
Sweet Italian Sausage. I use sweet Italian sausage, but feel free to swap it out for “hot” instead or mix with ground beef. I only seem to find the ones with casings so just remove the casings before cooking.
Ricotta Cheese. You need about 4 cups. I use the larger containers at my grocery store, which are 32oz. I have also substituted small curd, full fat cottage cheese.
Jumbo Shells. The one issue with these shells is they can break in the package easily, so look for a box with the most intact shells.
Spaghetti Sauce. This recipe utilizes store-bought sauce, but feel free to make your own. My personal favorite is Ragu Chunky Garden because it is a sweeter sauce with loads of flavorful veggies. However, your personal favorite is always the best choice!
Spinach. I have always used fresh spinach for this recipe. I think you can use frozen spinach just as well, but make sure to thaw and remove any excess water. I would use about 5-oz of frozen spinach for this recipe thawed to room temperature.
Mozzarella. I use part-skim shredded mozzarella.
Parmesan. I’m all about shredding cheese off a block for cost reasons, but it works to use pre-shredded.
Powdered Garlic. This one is important. Powdered garlic just works better than fresh in this recipe. I talk more about how much garlic to use under “Tips” but add enough powdered garlic in the filling until you think you have put a little too much.
How To Make Stuffed Pasta Shells
I love this recipe for how forgiving it is. Sometimes I pour the whole jar of sauce in right from the start, and sometimes I substitute different veggies or cheeses, and it is still wonderful. However, if you would like a step-by-step peak at my preparation, then here you go!
- Prepare the jumbo shells and sausage. The noodles should be *just* pliable. They should be bendable but still feel hard and not cooked through. The sausage should be completely cooked through and broken up well.
- Mix up the filling. In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, 8oz of mozzarella, ½ cup of parmesan, eggs, oregano, garlic powder, and pepper. Stir in the spinach.
Pro Tip: With fresh spinach, the amount per cup can vary. I don’t pack the cups. In the photo above, I have included what a cup of spinach means to me when measuring. It’s loose but still full.
Layering the stuffed shells with meat is fairly straight forward. Layering half the marinara in the baking dish first prevents the shells sticking. Then stuff the shells and layer the rest of the marinara, sausage and cheeses on top. Cover with foil and bake until bubbly!
Baking Note: The amount of baking time will vary depending on how much you pack in the dish. It can take as long as 50 minutes if the casserole dish is completely packed (as pictured above), or 20-25 minutes if the shells aren’t stuffed in there. Heating the sauce on the stove before layers will reduce the cooking time.
These sausage stuffed shells utilize several shortcuts to get it in the oven fast.
- Use pre-shredded cheeses like parmesan and mozzarella.
- Use store bought spaghetti sauce.
- Chop the spinach in a food processor. You only need a few seconds to get a very rough chop. I usually remove the stems, but it isn’t required.
- Heating the spaghetti sauce on the stove before layering will reduce the cooking time about 5-15 minutes.
- The thicker the casserole (i.e. the more you stuff the shells in the pan), the longer the baking time.
Stuffed Pasta Shells Recipe Tips
IMPORTANT! The amount of garlic will vary a bit – 4 teaspoon of powdered garlic may seem like a lot. I am not a huge fan of garlic, but the cheese filling mellows the garlic flavor with sausage stuffed shells. What works is adding garlic into the cheese filling – one a teaspoon at a time – until you think you have put a little too much. Even at 4 tsp, I wince my eyes and think “Whew! Garlic!” (not in a good way) I’m telling you to go overboard! Be fearless! It will be amazing!
This recipe often makes more than a 9×13 – I usually have a small 5×9 in addition. You can freeze this extra portion or bake separately for delicious leftovers. I have had boxes of jumbo shells with ⅓ of them broken and useless. If I cannot fit all the shells, I just toss the additional ingredients in a separate baking dish. You could make a vegetarian variety this way or freeze for later.
Substitute any veggies you like. Making stuffed shells without spinach is exactly the same recipe, so you can skip that if you prefer. I like to add a vegetable to the stuffed shells recipe. It helps the texture. Mushrooms or zucchini are also good options.
Serving and Storage
Serve: After these come out of the oven, I usually give them about 10 minutes, so they aren’t burning hot and to thicken up.
Store: Leftovers are amazing! This recipe is one of hubby’s favorites to pack for work. Small batches keep them fresher and easier to reheat in the microwave. The recipe is good for 4-5 days.
Reheat: This easy Stuff Shell recipe keeps and reheats amazingly both in the oven and in the microwave.
- OVEN: Cover the pan with foil and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
- MICROWAVE: You can also reheat individual servings in the microwave by transferring to a microwave safe plate and microwaving for 90 seconds. I usually cut it up with a fork to evenly heat in the microwave without cold spots. Continue to microwave at 30 second intervals until heated through.
Freeze: I generally recommend freezing the extra sausage stuffed shells, just before baking. That way you can just pop it into the oven, although you will have to bake it for longer. I usually bake it covered for about 50-60 minutes or until the cheese is melted and everything is cooked through. In an airtight container, this recipe should last 3-4 months.
- Jumbo shell pasta: I am only linking to this because there are a few different types of shells. You want the biggest kind for this recipe.
- Jarred Pasta Sauce: Cuts down the prep time and this is my favorite store-bought sauce, but any marinara sauce will work.
- Heavy Bottom Baking Dish: This is my most used baking dish, keeps heat even and it has survived years of kitchen abuse.
Frequently Asked Questions
I generally recommend freezing the extra sausage stuffed shells, just before baking. That way you can just pop it into the oven, although you will have to bake it for longer. I usually bake it covered for about 50-60 minutes or until the cheese is melted and everything is cooked through. I prefer my cheese bubbly and just starting to brown, so I broil it for a few minutes after that with the cover off.
In a well packed freezer, and airtight container, this recipe should last 3-4 months.
A simple green salad tossed in Italian Dressing or Balsamic Vinaigrette
Garlic bread or crusty French baguette.
Homemade Bread sticks or garlic knots
Marinated Vegetable Salad
Roasted Zucchini Spears with parmesan over the top
Approximately 46 shells.
Yes! I normally top the stuffed shells, but feel free to mix in the filling if you prefer.
WATCH THE RECIPE VIDEO
I have also taped myself preparing this recipe in the video below. The written instructions are in the recipe card further down the page.
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PS. If you make this recipe, leave a COMMENT AND A STAR RATING in the comments section at the bottom and be sure to take a photo and tag it #cravingcreative on Instagram! I appreciate you for taking the time to read about me and my family recipes.
Stuffed Shells with Italian Sausage
- 1 package Jumbo Pasta Shells 16oz
- 32 oz Ricotta about 4 cups
- 12 oz Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
- 2 Eggs
- 4 teaspoon Garlic Powder *see note
- 1 teaspoon Dried Oregano
- ¾ cup Shredded Parmesan
- 45 oz Spaghetti sauce large jar
- 4 cups Fresh Spinach rough chopped and stems removed if you prefer
- 1 lb Italian sausage ground or casings removed
- parsley for garnish dried or fresh
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a skillet over medium heat, brown and crumble the sausage. Drain any excess fat and remove from heat.
- Bring water to boil and add the shells. Cook the shells until they are pliable for filling and no more. This means the shells should still feel hard, but they are bendable for stuffing.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, 8oz of mozzarella, ½ cup of parmesan, eggs, oregano, garlic powder, and pepper. Stir in the spinach.
- Coat the bottom of a 9x13in pan with the ½ jar of spaghetti sauce. Spoon the cheese mixture into the shells and place shells open side up, close together in the dish. There will be more shells than will fit into this pan and you can either make a second smaller pan (5×8 is good) or freeze for future use. Sometimes the shells also break in the box so this is fine.
- Add the rest of the spaghetti sauce. Sprinkle the sausage over the top of the shells. Then sprinkle with the remaining 4oz of mozzarella and ¼ cup of Parmesan cheese.
- Cover with aluminum foil, preferably tented so it doesn't stick to the cheese. Bake for 25-40 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly. The more packed/full the casserole dish, the longer it will take to bake. You know it's ready when the cheesy is melted and bubbly. Look for bubbles along the sides of the dish.
- If you like a cheesy crust, you may broil it uncovered for 3-5 minutes (watch closely). Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
- OVEN: Cover the pan with foil and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
- MICROWAVE: You can also reheat individual servings in the microwave by transferring to a microwave safe plate and microwaving for up to 90 seconds. I usually cut it up with a fork to evenly heat in the microwave without cold spots.
Tasted very good!
If you sub mushrooms or zucchini, should you cook them first?
Yes, I would sauté them until cooked before layering in the dish.
Mary anne says
This note is for myself😁I I used 2 sausage/regular size cottage cheese/1egg approximately 9 oz mozzarella/1/2c Parmesan/some frozen spinach. Mixed cooled sausage with cheese mixture. Enough to stuff 25 shells. 1 box unico jumbo shells made about50 shells.
Vicky East says
Did this with my own spaghetti sauce on Friday night with the rain hurling itself against the windows. Served it with homemade baguette smothered in garlic butter and a salad in which I used up the leftover spinach. A glass of good red rounded out the dinner. Ultimate comfort food and a great start to the weekend.
Excellent recipe was great flavor, I make my own sauce which seem to add to the great flavor.
Awesome recipe, my family loved it. I did mix ground beef with my Italian sausage, it was amazing. Thanks you so much.
My kids practically licked their plates clean. Thank you, this was amazing!
This was so good. I’ll be making it again for lunches!
I will definitely be adding this recipe to the weekly rotation! It was lovely!
This was amazing. My whole family went back for seconds!
Delicious and so easy to make! I did add a bit more garlic and basil.
Love it, and easy to make!
I’ve been making stuffed shells for years. This will be my new go-to recipe!
Excellent,added 1 tsp onion powder,and 10 minutes to cook time if you have not cooked the sauce.
This was excellent!