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Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells. Dinner = planned.

Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells | @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 | @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 | @hbharvest Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells | @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 | @hbharvest

Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells

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

Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.

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  • 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 | @hbharvest

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

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  1. Hey would this be good to do the night before with regular pasta shells and also gluten free shells without getting soggy or hard!?

    1. Hey Ashleigh,
      Gluten free shells would work here. I would assemble through step 5, cover and keep in the fridge until you are ready to bake. I hope the recipe turns out amazing for you. Please let me know if you give it a try! xTieghan

  2. 5 stars
    SOOOOO good! I’ve made this several times and always come back to this recipe when I want a great baked pasta! Thanks for sharing your culinary skills 😊

  3. 5 stars
    My first attempt at making stuffed shells and so glad I used this recipe! The pesto makes the whole dish so much better. Will absolutely be my go-to stuffed shells recipe! Thank you so much!

    1. Hey Bianca,
      I really appreciate you giving this recipe a try, I am so glad it was enjoyed.🌷 xTieghan

    1. Hey Emme,
      You can use chicken broth in place of the vodka. I hope you love the recipe, please let me know if you have any other questions! xTieghan

    1. Hey Xaviera,
      Thanks so much for giving the recipe a try, I am so glad it was enjoyed! Happy New Year! xTieghan

  4. Hi! Obsessed with all of your recipes. I am making this for Christmas dinner but wanted to make it the night before. Do you think that would work?

    1. Hey Erin,
      Yes, you can assemble up until the baking point, cover and store in the fridge! I hope you love the recipe, please let me know if you have any other questions! Happy Holidays! xTieghan

  5. 5 stars
    This was wonderful! Will definitely make again! I love recipes that you can put together ahead of time and bake later. I used fresh mozzeralla and grated Parmesan on top and broiled it for a few minutes after if was done baking. I think vegetarians would love this by substituting mushrooms for the Italian sausage.i probably increased the amount of pesto that i drizzled on top. I don’t usually make pasta sauces by using canned whole tomatoes but I will from now on. For me it worked better to drain off the extra liquid.from the can. Another keeper recipe!

  6. 5 stars
    I made this a few days ago and it was amazing. I usually hate stuffing shells but I had homemade basil pesto I needed to use up so I went for it. It turned out to be an easy recipe and so worth a tiny little extra effort. And it was even better the next two days warmed over. I will be making this again.

  7. 5 stars
    These were SOOO good. I loved the pesto with them. I froze the leftovers and will make this recipe again and again!

  8. 5 stars
    Of course this was amazing! Thank you for the recipe! I made a few substitutions based on what I had and wow! Added mushrooms, cut up leftover bratwursts and shredded smoked pork, rotel tomatoes, didn’t have ricotta so used Boursin cheese and sour cream mixture. You’re right- don’t skip the vodka. Sooo gooood!!

  9. Making this tomorrow, recipe says it’s okay to assemble ahead of time. Do you think if I assemble this afternoon, it was be okay to bake for dinner tomorrow? Thanks! 🙂

    1. Hi Chelsea,
      Yes that is totally fine! I hope you love the recipe, please let me know if you have any other questions! xTieghan

  10. 4 stars
    My husband and I both enjoyed this but it gave us incredible heartburn both the first time we had it and the leftovers. I think it may be the large amount of tomato paste adding to the acidity. We both rarely get heartburn so not sure what else it could have been. The flavors were wonderful. Next time I’ll cut back to a tbsp or two of the paste instead of the whole 6oz. can.

    1. Hi Amy! I am sorry about that, but am glad it turned out well for you! Please let me know if there is anything I could help you with! xTieghan

  11. Is there a substitute for vodka and chicken sausage? I can’t have both.
    This recipe looks great and I can’t wait to make it with possible substitutes for the above.

    1. Hey Sam, use and equal amount of water and just omit the sausage. Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you love this recipe! Thank you!! xTieghan

  12. This sound heavenly! If we don’t have vodka handy, is it fine to omit it from the sauce? Wasn’t sure how it would come out.

    1. HI! Yes, of course! Just use an equal amount of water or broth. Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you love this recipe! Thank you! xTieghan

  13. 5 stars
    I love this. Have made it twice! I changed it up slightly just by using a jarred sauce because that’s what I had. But the pesto cheese filling is creamy and delicious.

  14. Yum! Would I be able to make this ahead of time? Do you suggest reheating after baking or assembling then waiting to bake?

    1. Hi Kim! Yes, you can make this ahead! I recommend assembling, then baking when ready! I do this all the time! Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you love this recipe! Thank you! xTieghan

  15. Hello!
    I can’t eat pork– any other meat suggestion instead of the spicy sausage? I was thinking about throwing some chicken in?

    LOVE everything you post!

    1. Hey Katie! I would use ground chicken and add a pinch of smoked paprika and crushed red pepper. Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you love this recipe. Thanks so much!! xTieghan

  16. We were a little bit short on a couple ingredients, but overall this recipe came out really good!! We subbed ground beef for sausage and it was very tasty.

  17. Hi, can you clarify when you say “2 (28 ounce) cans of tomatoes”, do you mean for a total of 28 ounces of tomatoes, or a total of 56 ounces of tomatoes? Thanks!

    1. HI! Yes, this is correct. You need 2 cans, both 28 ounces. Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you loved this recipe and had a great Christmas! Thanks so much and happy Holidays!! xTieghan ?

  18. 5 stars
    I realize this is an old recipe of yours, but I recently tried it
    and wanted to thank you. My picky three year old loved it so much even after 3 days eating leftovers, he asked for more jumbos ( aka jumbo pasta shells)

  19. Made this dish last night (along with the Tuscon soup) just omitted the sausage for a Kisher option and my family could stop eating it! Absolutely delish!

  20. 5 stars
    When I first saw this recipe I knew I had to make it. Omg did it deliver. SO GOOD! I could eat these forever. New staple in my house. Thank you!

  21. Hi! 2 questions! 1: Do you use fresh mozzarella or the hard mozzarella? 2: If I made this the night before and cooked the following evening would that be OK?

    1. HI! I use hard mozzarella for this recipe. Yes, you can make the night before and cook the next night. That works great! Please let me know if you have other questions. Hope you love this recipe! Thanks! 🙂

  22. 5 stars
    Beautiful and delicious!! Made for a weekend Valentine’s dinner and it was perfect. Love the addition of the pesto. Yum!! Thank you ❤

    1. I use whole, peeled and then crush with my hands. Please let me know if you have other questions. Hope you love this recipe! Thanks! 🙂

  23. 5 stars
    My family LOVED these! Thank you! My daughter asked if I could add these to our regular recipe rotation because she loves them so much, and my other kids agreed.

    (Also, thanks for the tip on stuffing using a gallon-sized bag. I’ve stuffed shells before with a spoon and it was SO much easier the way you suggested.)


  24. YUM! This is in the oven as I type. Super excited to eat this tonight! Pretty sure my family will be raving about it. I’m not a fan of vodka so I left that out but did everything else as the recipe stated. It looks AMAZING.

  25. 4 stars
    This was very tasty but turned out with a lot of liquid. Followed the instructions. Should I have drained the tomatoes?

    1. HI! I don’t drain my tomatoes, but it is possible your tomatoes contained more liquid than mine. Next time you can drain the tomatoes before adding to the dish or just drain off any extra liquid before serving. Please let me know if you have other questions. Hope you love this recipe! Thanks! 🙂

  26. 5 stars
    I made this last night and everyone raved about it! It was delicious! Thank you so much. Do you know if this would hold up for a good freezer meal if I packaged it up before baking it? And if so, how long it might need to bake if frozen?

    1. So happy everyone loved this!! Yes, I think this would be a great freezer meal!! It should be able to be kept frozen for 3-4 months. Please let me know if you have other questions. Happy Holiday’s ? 🙂

    1. The vodka helps to deepen the flavor of the sauce and I do recommend using if you can. That said, water or chicken broth can also be used. Please let me know if you have other questions. Hope you love this recipe! Happy Holiday’s ? 🙂

  27. 4 stars
    Hey, just curious bc these look delicious, but do you place the shells in order and all or just kinda toss them haphazardly and pour sauce on? I always line mine up and then cant fit them all in just one baking dish, but if I can do it this way I def will!!

    1. HI! I line then up, then just place any extra shells on top of the rows, then add sauce. it does not need to be perfect by any means! Please let me know if you have other questions. Hope you love this recipe! Happy Holidays ? 🙂

    1. Sure! Feel free to switch it up. I am sure any pasta/pesto would be great as long as you love the flavors you use. Please let me know if you have other questions. Hope you love this recipe! Happy Holidays ? 🙂

      1. 5 stars
        Thank you TIeghan for a most inspiring post! I enjoy making my own pasta, so you inspired me to use your pesto/cheese filling, meat sauce. I made sort of a manicotti. I laid out the ribbon of pasta, put a couple tablespoons of cheese, and roll them up! I sauced them in a casserole and baked…more cheese on top! Oh yeah!! Winner dinner! Thank you!

    1. it is 2 (28 ounce) cans of tomatoes. Please let me know if you have other questions. Hope you love this recipe! Happy Holidays ? 🙂

  28. Hey Tieghan,
    I love these stuffed shells and think they’re a prefect hot dinner! I’ve been wanting to make manicotti but like these little shell cups instead. Also, I love the basil ricotta mixture and am looking forward to making this for my mom and step brother (he gets into town Friday! ?).
    I’m sorry you’ve had a long day. I hope you’re staying warm, and hopefully you’re having a restful night and can recharge for tomorrow. 🙂 Maybe a warm shower and some extra blankets will help you relax and clear your mind a bit!

  29. Sounds incredible! I think I’ll be making this over the weekend… The weather is calling for a large plate of comforting pasta!

  30. Whelp, this is what’s going to happen in my house. I’m going to make this recipe, surprise my husband with it when he gets home, he’ll take one bite, then drop to his knees and ask me to marry him again. He tends to do that when I make cheesy pasta dishes – it’s his jam. All kidding aside he’s going to flip when I make this recipe for him, it looks insanely mouthwatering 🙂

  31. Ok so I now know what I want to eat for dinner for the next 6 months. These are almost like a much easier form of ravioli?? The cheesy filling in that thick tomato sauce is just perfect. Definitely saving this one for later!

    1. 1 (16 ounce) container. Please let me know if you have other questions. Hope you love this recipe! Happy Holiday’s ? 🙂

    1. 1 (16 ounce) container. Please let me know if you have other questions. Hope you love this recipe! Happy Holiday’s ? 🙂

  32. Heya

    This looks amazing- Any way you could suggest to adapt it for veggies, please? I’m concerned veggie sausage may not work very well so would mushrooms work instead??

    1. HI! I love the idea of using roughly chopped mushrooms. That sounds awesome!! Please let me know if you have other questions. Hope you love this recipe! Happy Holiday’s ? 🙂

  33. 5 stars
    This recipe is calling to me!! I need it — as in immediately. The flavors that are going on are spectacular! This is winter — gone are the light salad based dished. I want pasta. I want cheese. I want sausage. And I want it all together. YUM!! Can’t wait to make it!!

  34. 5 stars
    Totally get it – give yourself permission to take a writing break and just let that creative spark hit you when the time comes. I know you have deadlines, but try not to overwhelm yourself. Hang in there and happy Wednesday! And yay for a perfect wintery pesto-packed pasta meal.