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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.

Spicy Zucchini and Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells |

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.

Spicy Zucchini and Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells |

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.

Spicy Zucchini and Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells |

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.

Spicy Zucchini and Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells |

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!

Spicy Zucchini and Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells |

Looking for August pasta recipes? Here are a few ideas: 

Creamy Roasted Tomato Ricotta Pasta with Crispy Prosciutto

One Pot Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Chicken Pasta

Greek Olive Pasta Salad

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

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Servings: 8
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.

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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!
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Spicy Zucchini and Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells |

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  1. 5 stars
    Delicious! Even though I used regular Italian sausage and forgot to get the provolone, so mozzarella all the way….it was fantastic. Will definitely make it again. Thanks Tieghan!

    1. Hey Wendy,
      Happy Wednesday! I am thrilled to hear that this recipe was a winner, thanks a bunch for making it! xT

    1. Hey Lynn,
      Sure, you can use broth in place of the vodka! I hope you love this dish, please let me know if you give it a try! xx

  2. 5 stars
    This is hands down one of my absolute favorite recipes of yours that I have made! I used ground beef and your recipe for the seasonings to make ground spicy Italian chicken sausage. The combination of all the flavors are wonderful. Super easy to make and I love that it can all be made in one pan. Thank you!!

    1. Hey Erin,
      Wonderful!! I appreciate you taking the time to make this recipe, I am so glad it was a hit! Happy Wednesday:)

  3. 5 stars
    Wonderful. I’ve never been brave enough to make stuffed pasta but this dish was super easy to make! I used our homemade elk Italian sausage so it wasn’t very spicy. Someone used my provolone on his sandwiches so i replaced with moz. I’m going to start hiding ingredients in the veggie drawer where he wont find them. Can i ask what size dish you used to bake it?

    1. Hi Fern,
      Happy Friday!? Thanks a bunch for testing this recipe out, I am so glad to hear it was enjoyed! I used a 12 inch skillet:) xx

  4. Oh my God I just can’t describe how good this is!
    Family of 5 , 2 very picky teens and a baby boy and all of them agreed that is Spicy Zucchini and Pesto Cheese stuffed shells is just awesome. I’m putting it on our menu every week from now on ,thank you Tieghan .
    Finding a recipes that everybody likes has always been a struggle but here at Half Baked Harvest there are plenty of great ones ,please keep up with great work !

    1. Hey there,
      Happy Friday!! Thanks a lot for trying this recipe out, I am so glad to hear it was enjoyed! Thanks so much for your kind message? Have a great weekend:)

    1. Hi Pam,
      Happy Tuesday!! Thanks a bunch for trying this recipe and sharing your feedback! I am so glad it was enjoyed:)

  5. 4 stars
    My husband has been raving about this dish since we had it a few nights ago! Says it’s now at the top of his list of favorites. The only chicken sausage I could find close to a spicy Italian flavor was one that was bruschetta flavored. Tried it as-is, but next time I’ll spice it up a little more on my own or just use hot Italian pork sausage as we did with the amazing zucchini involtini recipe (obsessed with that recipe myself!). Regardless, LOVING these flavors and the healthy dose of fresh veggies in this recipe!

    1. Hey Kristie,
      Wonderful! I love to hear that this recipe was a winner, thanks for trying it out! Have a great weekend:)

  6. 5 stars
    Delicious! Love that it incorporates in season zucchini. Great hit at a dinner party. I made it a few hours ahead and then baked it as the last step. Thank you for such a great recipe!

  7. 2 stars
    Good recipe, I added onions and garlic along with the zucchini and some pepper to the sauce along with the other spices. A lot of flavors going on here, I think next time I would ditch the pesto and just make regular stuffed shells. Added an egg to the filling to act as a binder as well.

    1. Hey Deanna,
      Thanks for making this recipe and sharing your feedback, sorry to hear you didn’t love the dish! xTieghan

  8. Could you make this ahead (up to step 6) – then cover & refrigerate until the evening until ready to bake?

    1. Hi Samantha,
      Totally, that will work well for you! I hope this recipe turns out amazing, please let me know if you give it a try! xTieghan

  9. Need to make a meatless entree option for an upcoming dinner. Would this work without the sausage, if I added more zucchini? Do you have other suggestions to replace the bulk that the sausage would provide? Thanks so much!

    1. Hey Joyce,
      Totally, just skip the sausage:) You could add extra veggies like mushrooms if you wanted. Please let me know if you have any other questions, I hope this recipe turns out amazing for you! xT