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

  1. 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

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 5 stars
    These were SOOO good. I loved the pesto with them. I froze the leftovers and will make this recipe again and again!

  5. 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!!

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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

  13. 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.

  14. 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 ?