Mini Meatball and Ricotta Stuffed Shells

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!

close up of meatball stuffed shells in a white round baking dish
Meatball stuffed shells are both the best party recipe and special dinner for two!

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

ingredients like ground beef for stuffed meatball shells
  • Meatballs. Ground beef and ground pork divided equally. And some moisture and flavor boosters
  • Ricotta cheese filling. A touch of lemon zest adds brightness to the fluffy ricotta and goat cheese filling.
  • Red sauce. Homemade red sauce is the star but you can certainly use your favorite jarred spaghetti sauce. My personal favorite is Rao’s Marinara Sauce.

⇢ You can find the full ingredient list + measurements in the recipe card directly below.

Ingredient Spotlight: jumbo stuffed shell pasta!

uncooked jumbo pasta shells spilling out of a bag on a white background
SO many great varieties of jumbo pasta shells out there!

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:


Stuffed Shells Pro Tip

Check the nutritional label for the number of shells contained in your bag or box of jumbo shell pasta. The average is around 30-35.


How to make meatball stuffed shells, layer by layer

Here are the easy steps to make stuffed meatball shells:

a pan of tomato sauce with a wooden paddle.
Make a double batch of red sauce and freeze some for another day!
meatballs being scooped by cookie scoop on baking sheet
Scoop up meatball mix with a small cookie scoop for great results.
white bowl with a wooden paddle stirring cheese ravioli filling.
Mix up ricotta cheese filling.

1. 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!

2. Roll 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.

3. 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


4. Assemble the stuffed shells

white baking dish with red sauce and meatballs, sauce and jumbo shells
Layer red sauce in bottom of baking dish.
hands filling stuffed shells with ricotta cheese blend.
Fill cooked jumbo shells with ricotta filling.
white baking dish of stuffed shells with meatballs and ricotta
Tuck a meatball in the shell and cheese.
white baking dish filled with stuffed meatball shells with ricotta and topped with red sauce
Cover with red sauce and add your favorite cheese topping.
  • Use a ladle ( I used a 1 cup ladle) to pour red sauce to the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ baking dish.
  • Use a piping bag, resealable storage bag, or small spoon to fill each cooked stuffed shell with about 1 Tablespoon of ricotta cheese filling.
  • Tuck 1 meatball inside a cooked and cooled stuffed shell and nestle the shells tightly in the baking pan on the sauce.
  • Cover with more red sauce and sprinkle on some grated fresh parmesan, mozzarella or fontina cheese as desired.
  • Bake until golden and bubbling.

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.

Storage, reheating and freezer tips

finished white round baking dish of stuffed meatball shells

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.

Freezer.

  • 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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close up of meatball stuffed shells in a white round baking dish
5 from 2 votes

Mini Meatball and Ricotta Stuffed Shells

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!
Prep Time:1 hour
Cook Time:45 minutes
Total Time:1 hour 45 minutes
Servings 8
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Ingredients
 

For the meatball filling

For the cheese filling

For the sauce

Garnish & Topping

Instructions

For the sauce – Make a batch of my homemade Italian red sauce using the instructions below and allow to cool. You can do this a day or two ahead as well and refrigerate until you're ready to assemble the stuffed shells.

  • Place tomatoes in a blender with their juices and pulse until desired consistency reached.
    28 oz can whole peeled Italian tomatoes
  • Heat olive oil in a 4qt. saucepan (or larger if doubling) over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent and rich in color, about 5 minutes. Briefly add garlic for 30 seconds until you smell it.
    2 tablespoon olive oil, 1 medium onion, 2 cloves garlic
  • Add red wine here, if desired. Cook for at least two minutes until wine is incorporated. See note below.
    ½ cup red wine
  • Reduce heat to medium-low and add tomato paste. Swirl around until softened and combined with onions about 2 minutes. Add spices ending with sugar and quickly combine because you don’t want the sugar to burn but to caramelize just a bit.
    3 oz tomato paste, 2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 tablespoon sugar, crushed red pepper
  • Quickly add pureed tomatoes and simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes. Check the seasoning after 30 minutes or so. Add more salt/pepper, water as needed or a little more sugar if the tomatoes are more on the acidic side.
    water
  • Taste and adjust for seasoning.
  • The sauce will thicken which is what you want. You are looking for a rich, red, sauce.

For the meatballs – make my Italian meatballs recipe using the proportions listed above

  • Drizzle a baking sheet with olive oil.
  • In a large bowl and using your hands, blend the meats together until mixed well. You don’t want to see big clumps of either meat but a nice uniform mixture.
    1 pound total of ground pork and beef combined
  • One at a time, crack the eggs into the side of the bowl and beat them lightly with a fork. Of course, you can beat them in a separate small bowl and then add them but I’m all about saving some dishes. 😀
    1 egg
  • Add the salt, pepper, oregano, both breadcrumbs, Parmesan, parsley and spices. Mix well into the meat along with the eggs.
    4 Tablespoons breadcrumbs, 4 T grated parmesan, 1/2 T fresh parsley, 1/2 tsp oregano, nutmeg
  • Add the warm water and mix gently with both hands making sure to incorporate all the water. It will feel like it won’t mix together but it will eventually!
    1/4 cup warm water
  • Shape into 1” balls using either your hands or a small-sized scoop. The mix will be very wet. As you go along and your hands start to get a little sticky, rinse your hands with warm water but don't dry them and go back to making your meatballs.
    meatballs being scooped by cookie scoop on baking sheet
  • One at a time, line up meatballs on your baking sheet being careful not to overcrowd.
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned, switching the pans in the oven halfway through to cook them evenly.
  • Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

For the ricotta filling

  • In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together, whisking to make sure the eggs are completely mixed in.
    30 oz whole milk ricotta, 6-8 oz goat cheese, 2 egg, 3 T fresh parsley, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 2 cups parmesan cheese, 1 lemon

Assemble the shells

  • Preheat the oven to 350˚.
  • Bring a large 8 qt. stockpot of water to boil. Add enough kosher salt to season the water (I like a couple of small handfuls). Carefully, add in the pasta and cook about 2 minutes less than stated on the package. Stir occasionally while cooking.
    Drain in a colander and set aside. If you're doing this ahead, you can add some oil to the noodles after cooking to keep them loose and not sticking to one another.
    1 box/bag jumbo pasta shells
  • Place 1-2 ladles worth of red sauce at the bottom of a 9×13" baking pan.
    white baking dish with red sauce and meatballs, sauce and jumbo shells
  • Place the ricotta cheese filling into a large plastic bag with a zippered seal. Cut a small piece of the corner and pipe about 2 T of filling into each shell. Start conservatively as you can add more. You want enough cheese to "nestle" a meatball in there and fill the shell.
    Place the shell in the sauce and repeat with the remaining shells lining them up across the pan.
    hands filling stuffed shells with ricotta cheese blend.
  • Take a cooled meatball and add to the center of each shell.
    white baking dish of stuffed shells with meatballs and ricotta
  • Ladle over more sauce over the stuffed shells and sprinkle on freshly grated parmesan or tear over some fresh mozzarella if you like things on the cheesy side.
    fresh grated parmesan or mozzarella
    white baking dish filled with stuffed meatball shells with ricotta and topped with red sauce
  • Bake for 40-45 minutes until the sauce is bubbling in the center of the pan and the cheese (if you added it) is lightly golden. Tear over some fresh basil leaves before serving.
    fresh basil

Notes

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.
Freezer
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.
Course: Main Course, Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Lori Murphy
Did you make this recipe? Tag @josieandnina or tag #josieandnina!

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