Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells. Dinner = planned.

Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells | halfbakedharvest.com @hbharvest

So I’ve been sitting here, on my kitchen floor, right up against the stove (because it’s so warm and cozy), staring at my computer screen for the last twenty minutes just kind of twiddling my thumbs about how to start this post and what exactly to chat with you all about. Sure, I want to tell you guys all about these delicious, cheese filled pasta shells, but it’s just been one of those long days and my brain feels fried. There’s also so much I have to share outside of this recipe that I am not even sure where to begin.

Basically what I am trying to say is that my thought process is all over the place. I have a ton to say, but I’m not sure how to write down the proper words to express my thoughts. Does that make any sense? Probably not, but you sort of get it, right?

Good news is that I’ve now gotten the hardest part about writing the day’s post done…I started it!

Whoop! Whoop!

Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells | halfbakedharvest.com @hbharvest

Alright, so now that I explained where my head is at, I’m feeling like I can dive into the post for real and tell you guys about these cheese filled pasta shells!

Believe it or not, this is my first jumbo pasta shell recipe. For the longest time, I had two boxes of jumbo pasta shells sitting on my pantry shelves, but every time I’d go to use them, the long cut pasta (angel hair, spaghetti, bucatini) would stare me down, and somehow seem like a better fit for whatever recipe I was creating. To be fair, I am a long cut pasta person all the way. It’s just what I know and love. But, there is a time and place for shells…especially shells that are filled with cheese!

This past week I finally bit the bullet and decided to make stuffed shells. I got home from hiking one day and was just in the mood to create a baked pasta dish. When I saw the shells, I knew cheese filled shells were in my future. I had a ton of ricotta, fresh basil, and a pound of spicy Italian sausage in my fridge, so the recipe was pretty much set.

I made a quick ragu style sauce with the spicy sausage, then stirred together some homemade basil pesto with a container of ricotta, stuffed it all inside my jumbo pasta shells, and put it all together. Then into the oven it went (with a little more cheese on top…of course), and thirty minutes later, I had this yummy dinner ready to go.

And guys? It. Is. GOOD!

Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells | halfbakedharvest.com @hbharvest Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells | halfbakedharvest.com @hbharvest

Think of this dish kind of like a manicotti, but in shell form, and probably a little easier to make than manicotti too. For the sauce, I love using a spicy sausage to add flavor without having to cook the sauce all day long. I also use a little vodka in the sauce to give it an extra kick. Plus, I just love all vodka style Italian sauces.

The ricotta filling though? That’s the best part. If you guys haven’t noticed, I love basil pesto, so anytime I have extra basil on hand, I make pesto and then use the pesto in all kinds of recipes (hello to this lobster with polenta and pesto and this pesto pasta bolognese). It’s one of my favorite ingredients.

I stirred the pesto into the ricotta to add plenty of basil flavor. It’s seriously the best, and I love the pesto cheese combo with the spicy red sauce.

Perfect dinner to entertain with this holiday season. You can prepare the dish in advance, keep it fully assembled in the fridge, and then bake before serving. Love dishes like this for holiday entertaining…they make life so easy!

Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells | halfbakedharvest.com @hbharvest
Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells | halfbakedharvest.com @hbharvest
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4.46 from 48 votes
The Recipe

Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells

By halfbakedharvest

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, Italian
Keyword: make ahead, pasta main course, stuffed pasta

Prepare in advance, keep fully assembled in the fridge, and then bake before serving, the perfect dinner to entertain with this holiday season!

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings 6 servings
Calories 759 kcal

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound ground spicy Italian sausage
  • 2 (28 ounce) cans san marzano tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 pound jumbo shells
  • 16 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese (about 2 cups)
  • 2 cups shredded provolone or fontina cheese
  • 3/4 cup basil pesto, homemade or store bought
  • 8 ounces mozzarella, torn
  • fresh basil for serving

Instructions

  1. 1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x13 inch baking dish.

    2. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the sausage and brown all over, about 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the tomatoes, vodka, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

    3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and boil the pasta until al dente according to package directions.

    4. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, provolone, and 1/2 cup pesto. Transfer the mix to a gallon size zip top bag and snip about a 1/2 inch off of one corner of the bag. 

    5. To assemble, spoon 3/4 of the red sauce in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Working with one pasta shell at a time, pipe about 1 tablespoon of the cheese mixture into each shell, placing the filled shell into the baking dish as you go. Spoon the remaining red sauce over top of the shells and then drizzle the remaining 1/4 cup pesto evenly over everything. Add the mozzarella. 

    6. Transfer the baking dish to the oven and bake 25-30 minutes or until the cheese has melted and is lightly browned on top. Cool 5 minutes before serving. Serve with fresh basil. Enjoy!

Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells | halfbakedharvest.com @hbharvest

PS. the red and green color combo? Yes, I did that on purpose, and yes, I love it…so festive!