Baked Spicy Zucchini and Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells. For nights when you’re looking for ways to use up your garden zucchini and fresh herbs – and also craving Italian! Jumbo pasta shells stuffed with basil pesto and ricotta cheese, then baked in a spicy vodka sauce with zucchini. This dish is cheesy and so delicious! It’s a great summer pasta that will easily transition into the fall.
I’m home and back in the kitchen today! Always good to be home, but I’m actually excited to be traveling more soon. Now that I am home, we have more fresh herbs than I really know what to do with! I’m inspired to attempt to use everything up.
Obviously, I made these stuffed shells before leaving, but I’m eager to share this dish with you all! I love making and serving stuffed shells, but for some reason, I only make them every so often. When I do make them, I always have fun adapting the dish for the season.
I know we all want to be cooking and eating with zucchini right now, so this feels like the perfect way to do it.
Jumping into the details
Originally when I decided I wanted to make these shells, I wasn’t thinking that I would include a vodka sauce in the recipe. However, as I was cooking the dish I decided, why not do a vodka sauce?”. Yes, easy enough, so I went for it and made these shells extra yummy!
Start off by boiling the shells. When you drain them, be sure to save some of the pasta cooking water to help thin out the sauce.
Now make the sauce. Cook both the spicy Italian sausage and the zucchini together in a big, oven-safe skillet if you have one. I like to use an oven-safe skillet so the shells can go right from the stove to the oven.
When the sausage is browned, the zucchini should have a nice sear to it. This is when you’ll want to stir in the tomato paste. Always cook the tomato paste for a couple of minutes before adding in the water. Cooking the tomato first reactivates the flavors and helps intensify the sauce. I also added fresh thyme and oregano. If you don’t have fresh herbs, dried will be great too!
Pour in the vodka, add some milk, season the sauce up, and let everything simmer.
While the sauce simmers, mix the ricotta with the provolone and pesto, Then stuff the mix right into the pasta shells. Add the shells to the sauce. Then add the mozzarella cheese on top and throw the whole thing into the oven to bake!
As the dish bakes it smells almost as though you’ve got a lasagna baking, so delicious!
And that’s it. Top with fresh basil and serve! It’s a wonderful Italian-inspired meal for these summer days. And it always comes out looking pretty too, so this dish is fun to entertain with!
Looking for August pasta recipes? Here are a few ideas:
Lastly, if you make these Spicy Zucchini and Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells 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!
Spicy Zucchini and Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells
Calories Per Serving: 698 kcal
Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.
- 3/4 pound ground spicy Italian chicken sausage
- 3 zucchini, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups chopped)
- 1/3 cup tomato paste
- 1/3 cup vodka
- 1 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
- kosher salt and pepper
- 1 pound jumbo shells
- 2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
- 2 cups shredded provolone cheese
- 3/4 cup basil pesto
- 4 ounces mozzarella, torn
- fresh basil for, serving
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- 1. Preheat the oven to 425° F. Lightly grease a baking dish or use an oven-safe skillet and skip the dish. 2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and boil the pasta until al dente according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water, then drain. 2. Meanwhile, cook the chicken sausage and zucchini in a large skillet over medium heat until browned all over, about 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the tomato paste, thyme, and oregano. Cook 1-2 minutes, then add the vodka. Simmer 1 minute, pour in the milk plus 1/3 cup pasta cooking water. season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly, but is still saucy. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.4. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, provolone, and 1/2 cup pesto. 5. To assemble, spoon 3/4 of the sauce into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Working with one pasta shell at a time, spoon about 1 tablespoon of the cheese mixture into each shell, placing the filled shell into the baking dish as you go. Spoon the remaining sauce over the shells, then drizzle the remaining pesto. Add the mozzarella.6. Bake 15-20 minutes or until the cheese has melted. Serve with fresh basil. Enjoy!