Unstuffed Spicy Tomato Basil Shells with Whipped Ricotta…not your average stuffed pasta shell recipe. Nope, these jumbo shells are unstuffed. Then tossed in a slightly spicy, herby, tomato sauce and served over a bed of creamy whipped ricotta. These shells are simple yet delicious! They’re also a great way to use pantry staple ingredients while still incorporating colorful spring herbs into your meal.

overhead photo of Unstuffed Spicy Tomato Basil Shells with Whipped Ricotta with fork in bowl

It’s Monday, but it’s a strange Monday, huh? This quarantine time feels odd. It’s scary and overwhelming, and somehow it still feels like the deep dark dead of winter…but yet the first official day of spring was actually last Thursday. I am usually very aware of the first day of spring, but I completely missed it last week, anyone else? Typically I’m dying for spring to arrive, to jump at the chance to use fresh produce, to make huge salads, and of course bake with all the spring strawberries.

This year however, well, things just feel so different. With grocery store trips very, very limited, and the produce section being so hit or miss, not all of my favorites are here for us to enjoy yet. But, I know they will come soon, so until then, we have this pasta. It’s a pantry pasta, but there’s still a taste of spring with fresh greens (say hello to plenty of kale) and a handful of fresh herbs too (hello to plenty of fresh basil)

It’s cozy pantry pasta, with a bit of a spring flare. And to be honest, it’s perfect for this time of year. The weather is still chilly and snowy here. But we have days of sunshine interspersed that feel very spring-like. Very much traditional weather.

overhead photo of Unstuffed Spicy Tomato Basil Shells in cooking pot

The inspiration…

The one thing every single one of you has asked of me during this strange time has been for pantry staple recipes that are colorful and delicious.

I LOVE a good pantry recipe just as much as you guys. In fact, I’ve actually been having a lot of fun with this “challenge” to create new pantry staple dishes. Using what I have on hand allows me to be creative in a different way than is normal for me. It allows me to look at the ingredients I have and think of new ways to incorporate them into recipes.

Enter this pasta dish. It has all the flavor and deliciousness we love about a good stuffed shell pasta recipe…but minus all the work and hassle. Instead of standing at the kitchen counter stuffing shells, this recipe completely skips that step by tossing the shells with sauce and serving them over creamy whipped ricotta.

Different – yes, difficult – no.

side angled photo of Unstuffed Spicy Tomato Basil Shells with Whipped Ricotta with fork in bowl

All the unstuffed spicy tomato basil shell details…

This recipe requires very little prep work and almost no chopping, so it comes together quickly.

You’ll want to first boil off the jumbo pasta shells, then just before draining reserve some of the pasta cooking water. This step is crucial, so please make sure not to dump the water before scooping some out. The pasta water will be used for creating a creamy sauce later.

Next, the tomato sauce. I kept this very simple, using canned tomato paste, tomatoes, dried oregano, and thyme. I did add a special ingredient…spicy Italian chicken sausage, it adds a lot of flavor and spiciness.

But, if you’re vegetarian or just going for a meatless Monday theme, you can easily omit the sausage from the sauce. I’ve given directions on how to do so at the end of the recipe. I just recommend adding some additional dried herbs, spices, and a touch more crushed red pepper flakes. This will keep the sauce flavorful and on the spicy side.

With or without the sausage it’s going to be great, so do what works best for you.

overhead close up photo of Unstuffed Spicy Tomato Basil Shells with Whipped Ricotta

The key to this spicy tomato basil sauce?

The tomato paste. It adds so much depth and flavor without having to leave the sauce to simmer all day long. It’s my “secret” ingredient.

Other important steps include caramelizing the shallots, tossing in fresh greens, and mixing up a quick herby sauce with fresh springtime basil and lemon. The lemon helps to lighten and brighten this pasta up.

overhead photo of Unstuffed Spicy Tomato Basil Shells with Whipped Ricotta

Now, onto the whipped ricotta.

The ricotta is the “extra special” finishing touch.

Not necessarily needed, but one hundred percent DELICIOUS. If you’re new to whipped ricotta, it’s just what it sounds like, ricotta cheese that’s been whipped in the food processor. It’s creamy, light, and airy, and makes for the BEST base for pasta of any kind. Especially an unstuffed pasta shell. It completes the recipe…well, at least if you ask me.

And you guys, that’s it. This is a cozy pasta dinner made in just about thirty minutes using mostly pantry staples with just a couple of fresh ingredients…and only if you have them.

Perfect for a quarantined Monday night. Just add a side of crusty bread plus your favorite glass of wine…because really anything goes right now, and why not, you know?

Looking for another pantry pasta option…try this Quick Pantry Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Burrata.

overhead photo of Unstuffed Spicy Tomato Basil Shells with Whipped Ricotta with fork in bowl

If you make these unstuffed spicy tomato basil shells and whipped ricotta, be sure to leave a comment and/or give this recipe a rating! Above all, I love to hear from you guys and always do my best to respond to each and every comment. And of course, if you do make this recipe, don’t forget to tag me on Instagram! Looking through the photos of recipes you all have made is my favorite!

Unstuffed Spicy Tomato Basil Shells with Whipped Ricotta | halfbakedharvest.com
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4.52 from 193 votes

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

The Recipe

Unstuffed Spicy Tomato Basil Shells with Whipped Ricotta.

Not your average stuffed shell pasta...better! A delicious way to use pantry staple ingredients.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 6
Calories 468 kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 pound jumbo pasta shells
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound ground spicy Italian chicken sausage
  • 3 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano (or 1 tbs fresh oregano)
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves (or 1 tbs fresh thyme)
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1 (14 ounce) can San Marzano tomatoes crushed
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 cups chopped greens, such as kale, spinach, or chard
  • 1 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons juice)
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese, whipped in the food processor, if desired

Instructions

  1. 1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente. Just before draining, remove 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking water. Drain.

    2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the chicken sausage and brown all over, about 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the shallots, garlic, oregano, thyme and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook until the shallots begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, cook 2 minutes. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, 1 cup pasta cooking water, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly. Add the greens, stirring until wilted. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

    3. Add the pasta shells and 1/2 cup basil, tossing to combine. If needed, thin the sauce with additional pasta cooking water.

    4. In a small bowl, mix the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil with the remaining 1/2 cup basil, lemon zest, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt.

    5. Spread the ricotta cheese into the bottom of each pasta bowl. Spoon the shells and sauce over the ricotta. Drizzle the basil lemon sauce overtop. Serve and enjoy!

Recipe Notes

To Make Vegetarian: omit the sausage and instead, when you add the shallots, also add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons smoked paprika, 1-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, 1 teaspoon onion powder, and a pinch each of salt and pepper.

overhead close up photo of Unstuffed Spicy Tomato Basil Shells with Whipped Ricotta