This stuffed shell recipe consists of pasta shells packed with ricotta and veggie filling, drizzled on top with dollops of tomatoey pasta sauce. It’s absolutely bursting with flavor! And did you know? It’s microwave friendly so you can divide them into serving sizes if you’d like some for now and some for later.
As a bonus, our nutritionist checked to make sure it’s healthy, so you’ll have half the fat and double the fun.
But before getting to the pots-and-pans part, we feel like we should answer some common questions about this recipe.
Is this stuffed shell recipe a manicotti recipe?
No, stuffed shells aren’t manicotti, but they are very similar. Italian names can sometimes be daunting for those who don’t speak the language so it can be easy to mix things up.
An obvious difference between the two is the shape; manicotti is a tube-shaped kind of pasta, while shells are, well, shells. The Italian name for shell-shaped pasta is conchiglie.
The similarity comes in the rest of the recipe. Shells or tubes, they are all cooked first, then stuffed with a creamy ricotta and veggie mix before all going into the oven, above the base of pasta sauce and under dollops of pasta sauce and cheese.
In case you’re wondering, yes, they’re vegetarian-friendly. And what’s more, if you take the time to prep tofu with nutritional yeast so its taste resembles ricotta cheese, your vegan friends can enjoy the dish too.
Which pasta should you use for this stuffed shells recipe?
The Italian name for shell-shaped pasta is conchiglie, but more often than not, you will find the pasta you need for this recipe sold as ‘Jumbo Shells’.
Most packaging clearly shows what shape the pasta is, either with a picture or a viewing window. If you go to the pasta aisle in the store you should be able to find something.
However, if you are buying your pasta online, search for the term “conchiglie” or simply “jumbo shells”. I don’t recommend getting the “conchigliette” kind though. The suffix “-ette” means that it’s a smaller version of the regular kind. Although they may look similar, we found them to be too small and barely able to hold any stuffing.
If you can’t find jumbo shells or conchiglie, any kind of pasta that can hold filling can do the job. We recommend “lumaconi”, snail shell-shaped pasta – you would just be swapping one shell for another!
How long do you boil your pasta shells?
Normally, you would boil pasta following the instructions given on the box. There is no such thing as a fixed cooking time for all types of pasta because it depends on the size of the pasta. If you do exactly as the instructions say, you’ll have al dente pasta, cooked through and ready to serve.
In the case of this recipe, we’re aiming for the pasta to be slightly undercooked. We need the pasta to be tough so it doesn’t break as we stuff the filling or become smooshy after 20 minutes in the oven. So, if the box says 20 minutes of boiling, you’ll want to reduce that to just 15 minutes, or ¾ of what’s said for other cooking times.
Other tips to perfect the dish
Boil the pasta with salt and a teaspoon of olive oil. The salt increases the boiling temperature to cook your pasta better and the oil prevents it from sticking together.
DON’T rinse pasta with cold water after boiling. Rinsing pasta is only for dishes that serve pasta cold, like pasta salads. Rinsing strips away the starch that helps bind the sauce to the pasta, so it’s a no-no for this dish.
Spread sauce evenly on the surface of each shell before baking. It helps keep the stuffing moist and adds even more flavor to the filling.
After baking, broil the surface so it has a golden color. It is often said that we eat with our eyes first. Broiling the top makes the dish look even more appealing and also gives a richer flavor and texture.
How To Make Vegetarian Stuffed Shell Recipe With Tofu-Ricotta Filling
- 4 1/2 tsp garlic 3 cloves, minced
- 5.3 oz medium sweet onion 1 medium, finely diced
- 7 oz extra-firm tofu crumbled
- 7 oz ricotta cheese
- 3.9 oz celery 2 medium stalks, finely diced
- 1/2 cup basil leaves chiffonade
- 1/2 cup parsley chopped
- 1 tbsp lemon juice juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- Boil the pasta. Our pasta box recommends 15 minutes, so we only boiled it for 11-12 minutes.
- Drain and cover. Put the cooked pasta in another pot and leave to cool.
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Sauté the filling. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and onion and sauté for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the remaining filling ingredients (except the ricottand sauté for another 8 minutes or so. Put the mixture into a bowl.
- Prepare the filling. Mix the ricotta cheese with the sautéd mixture to form the filling.
- Prepare the baking dish. Spread ½ cup of pasta sauce onto your baking dish.
- Put in the shells, stuff, and cover. Stuff about 2 tbsp of filling into each shell and place on the sauce in a flower-like pattern. Spoon the remaining sauce onto the shells and spread it out evenly. Cover with foil.
- Bake. Put the baking dish in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.
- Serve. The dish is best served with a side salad.