This post may contain affiliate links, please see our privacy policy for details.

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.



  • 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!
View Recipe Comments
Spicy Zucchini and Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells |

Add a Comment

Recipe Rating

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. Hi! Wondering if I could sub the hot ground sausage for ground chicken or ground turkey (looking for a leaner option)? If those subs would work, any recommendations for seasoning to replicate the flavor? Thanks so much!

    1. Hey Christy! Yes you can definitely use a chicken or turkey sausage! I would just add in some italian seasoning and crushed red pepper with it to give it some similar flavor! xT

    1. Hey Alexis,
      Totally, it depends how long you are waiting to bake it, if it’s just a day the fridge is fine otherwise I would freeze it! xx

  2. 5 stars
    Fantastic Sauce! I used what I had on hand: Onions and Mushroom stems chopped in place of zucchini. I had stuffed shells with pesto and ricotta in the freezer from a prior meal. This will be my new go-to sauce for Stuffed Shells, Manicotti, Ravioli, and anything pasta. So delicious! Another good one!

    1. Hey Kym,
      I appreciate you giving this recipe a try and sharing your review, so glad to hear it was enjoyed! Happy New Year! 🎊🎈

  3. 5 stars
    Fantastic recipe! Wonderfully fresh tasting & kinda healthy ☺️ This will be a regular addition to our family meals!! Thank you for your amazing recipes

    1. Hey Renee,
      Happy Friday!! I appreciate you making this recipe and sharing your feedback, so glad to hear this was enjoyed! xT