When a mini meatball and a bed of creamy ricotta cheese gets tucked inside a jumbo pasta shell, you have an easy one pan meal for a group or party! Announce you're having these meatball and ricotta stuffed shells for dinner and they'll come running through the door! A great use for leftover Italian meatballs!
Don't get me wrong. A really good cheesy baked pasta recipe is always welcome on our table. Sometimes, though, I'd welcome some meat. And a lot times, meat around here comes in the form of meatballs. My friend, I give you meatball stuffed shells with ricotta cheese.
Your kids especially are going to love them!
⇢ Other easy Italian recipes like this you'll ♥️: classic ricotta cheese lasagna, cheesy baked ziti, and homemade Italian meatballs. Or give my meatball stuffed bocce balls a try along with some Italian red dipping sauce...so good!
The best stuffed shells recipe
Why do I love these stuffed shells so much?
- The juicy Italian meatball tucked inside the jumbo pasta shell is like a little surprise!
- A light ricotta cheese filling isn't too heavy and complements the meatballs in the best way.
- They make the best party recipe because one pan can feed a lot of people. And each shell is filling thanks to the meatball!
Good to gather: ingredients
⇢ You can find the full ingredient list + measurements in the recipe card directly below.
Ingredient Spotlight: jumbo stuffed shell pasta!
Jumbo pasta shells for stuffed shells come in a variety of brands and sometimes sizes. The ones I'm using I actually found at Home Goods and they are from an Italian pasta maker and quite good. Pick up imported pasta whenever you see it — it's worth it!
Jumbo shell pasta brands to try:
How to make meatball stuffed shells, layer by layer
Here are the easy steps to make stuffed meatball shells:
Make the sauce
- If using my authentic red pasta sauce recipe, make a batch by simmering tomatoes, paste in some red-wine sauteed onions and garlic. Set it aside after 45 minutes or so.
- You can use jarred spaghetti sauce instead. No shame whatsoever!
Make some mini meatballs
- This super easy and moist meatball recipe is measure to make exactly 30 meatballs for your stuffed shells. You might want to make a double batch depending on how many shells your box contains.
- A small cookie scoop is the perfect size for making meatballs for stuffed shells.
Mix the ricotta filling
- Whisk up a double batch of the basic ricotta cheese filling recipe from cheese lasagna. This will form the anchor for the meatballs to stay in the stuffed shells.
Semi-homemade Recipe Option
Time crunched? Use jarred pasta sauce and frozen mini-meatballs instead!-Josie + Nina
Assemble the stuffed shells
Make ahead suggestions
Cook the pasta shells and cool. Store in an oiled resealable plastic storage bag and refrigerate.
Follow the meatball recipe and cool completely. Make the ricotta filling and the sauce recipe and refrigerate all separately until you're ready to assemble the stuffed shells.
FAQ's...all you need to know!
Can I use cottage cheese instead of ricotta?
Sure! Substitute equal amounts of cottage cheese for the ricotta.
How about the goat cheese? Do I have to use it?
Goat cheese adds the best tang and even those who don't like it, will likely not notice any offensive goat cheese flavor. If you leave it out, the filling will be looser and a little less creamy. I recommend and love mascarpone instead.
Storage, reheating and freezer tips
Storage. Store any leftovers in a resealable, airtight container for up to 4 days.
Reheating. Reheat leftover in an oven set to 350˚ or in the microwave for 30 second increments until desired temperature is reached.
Before baking: Cover with plastic wrap first and then a double layer of aluminum foil and freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost and top with layer of cheese, if desired, before baking.
After baking: Freeze for up to 3 months covered in plastic wrap and then a double layer of aluminum foil for up to 3 months. Defrost before baking or reheating.
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Stuffed Meatball Shells
- 1 box/bag jumbo pasta shells, approximately 30 shells
For the meatball filling
- 1 pound total of ground pork and beef combined
- 4 Tablespoons breadcrumbs, can use panko
- 4 T grated parmesan, plus more for topping the dish
- ¼ cup warm water
- 1 egg
- ½ T fresh parsley
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- nutmeg, sprinkle or pinch
For the cheese filling
- 30 oz whole milk ricotta, 2- 15 oz. containers
- 6-8 oz goat cheese
- 2 egg
- 3 T fresh parsley
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 cups parmesan cheese
- 1 lemon, zested
For the sauce
- 1 28 oz can whole, peeled Italian tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, see note
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped, ½ cup
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup red wine, optional - see note below
- 3 oz tomato paste, or ½ of a 6 oz can
- 2 teaspoon kosher salt, to start
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- crushed red pepper, to taste - try ¼ teaspoon to start if you like heat.
- water, as needed (in ¼ cup increments)
Garnish & Topping
- fresh basil, optional
- fresh grated parmesan or mozzarella, add before baking