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Make Ahead Stuffed Pasta Shells

Make Ahead Stuffed Pasta Shells

My son Kyle’s senior year of college football is in full swing. Because he is living off-campus this year I knew I would be getting more than one last minute phone call asking if some of his teammates and he could come over for dinner. I wanted to be prepared so I decided I needed to stock my freezer with some easy-to-get-on-the-table entrees. Pasta is always a hit so I went to work preparing Stuffed Pasta Shells to have on hand for the “can we come over for dinner” request. 

Kyle knows I need at least an hour or so notice to pull off a reasonable dinner for the boys so this recipe fits the bill perfectly. The pasta shells can be pulled from the freezer and go right into the oven after just adding some prepared spaghetti sauce (a staple in my house) and cheese. Sixty minutes later they are ready to serve. All I have to do is add a green salad and some bread, and I have made some football players very happy. Dessert is never a problem because I keep homemade cookie dough ready to bake in the freezer at all times. I may have to ask Kyle to stop at the store on the way over to pick up milk, but he is usually willing to help since he knows he will soon be eating a home-cooked meal.

Please keep in mind you don’t have to freeze the pasta shells but can microwave or bake them immediately. I made the recipe below to show completing the recipe and serving immediately; I followed the microwave directions. Note the recipe also includes oven directions. The make-ahead/freezer directions are a bonus added on to this recipe so I show the make-ahead steps at the end of the blog. If you are using the frozen stuffed shells they must be baked in an oven, not microwaved, to assure proper heating.

Stuffed Pasta Shells call for deli Provolone cheese. I adore Provolone cheese — think Mozzarella but with a much fuller flavor. I have the deli slice the cheese fairly thin and then my first step is to cut the slices into narrow strips about 1/8-inch wide. The cheese will look like this:

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Then I cut the narrow strips into thirds so now it looks like this and is ready to use:

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Then it’s time to cook the jumbo pasta shells according to the package directions.  Remember to use a large pot so there is plenty of room for the pasta to move around.

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While the pasta is cooking melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet until sizzling.  Then add the onion and garlic.

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Cook over medium heat until tender.  Add the sausage and ground turkey.

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Continue cooking until the meat is browned.  This will take about 8 to 12 minutes.

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Drain off any fat.  I just place the meat in a fine colander and let the fat drain off into a disposable container or a paper lined bowl.

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Return the meat to the skillet and add the basil, oregano and 1 cup cheese.  Gently stir the mixture.

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Spread ¾ cup of the spaghetti sauce on the bottom of an ungreased 13x9-inch baking dish. 

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Now it is time to stuff the pasta shells with the meat mixture.  I think it works best if you set up a mini assembly line with the shells, meat and prepared baking dish.

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To stuff the shells hold one in your hand and spoon the meat mixture into the shell.  Each shell will hold about ¼ cup of the meat mixture, give or take a little.

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Place the filled shells, meat side down in the prepared baking dish.

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Once all the shells are filled and in the baking dish, spoon the remaining spaghetti sauce over the stuffed shells and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

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Cover with waxed paper and microwave on medium high or 80% power for 5 minutes.  Turn the dish and continue microwaving for another 5 to 6 minutes or until the stuffed shells are heated through and the cheese is melted. 

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Let them stand 2 to 3 minutes before serving.

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If you are following the make-ahead directions do not put the spaghetti sauce in the baking dish.  Once the shells are stuffed place them on an ungreased baking sheet.  Cover and place in the freezer.

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Once the stuffed shells are frozen, place them in a plastic freezer bag and seal the bag.  Store frozen.

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To bake the shells, heat the oven to 350°F.  Continue assembling the recipe just like I showed above but use the frozen stuffed shells, spaghetti sauce and cheese.  Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the stuffed shells are heated.  Add a green salad and some French bread, and your meal is complete. copy

This recipe offers lots of preparation options – microwave, oven, or make-ahead.  I must say, I’m feeling very pleased with myself.  I’m ready for that phone call and know that I will serve a meal the guys will love.  I just love it when I look smart!  Let me know what you think of Stuffed Pasta Shells by leaving me a comment, and rating and reviewing the recipe.

Boo! We have a sneak peek at a Halloween recipe you'll just love next on the blog!

Becky Wahlund is the Director of the Test Kitchens for Land O'Lakes and writes for our Recipe Buzz™ Blog.

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You know I just sent a comment on these and another way to fix them. And after reading a couple of others' comments, I realized that somethng was missing in what I suggested, the spinach, 1 small box for a small amount of pasta. Defrosted and drained and squezzed of water as much as possible. Considering the contents of these kind of dishes, rather healhty, and not the mounds of fat as with sausage. The low fat mozzarela could also be used, don't think provolone is made low fat.(?)

Posted October 28, 2011 by c A.

Becky, Interesting recipe; but as a decendent from an Italian family who doesn't use sausage as much in dishes such as these, I would not use sausage. Some of us detest pieces (no matter how small, if they can be seen as) onions and garlic, we use the powdered form. To make them less loose and fall apart, we would use Ricotta, low fat would be good, non-fat doesn't have enough moisture. Also, finely shredded chiken or turkey (light & dark so it's not too dry) works well. Add some Italian parsley (any flat kind) and an egg and it's ready to go. We would also completely cover the stuffed shells with sauce so they wouldn't be kind of pasty or dry. Cover with your cheese or mozzarela and bake, covered, until heated through. I like the idea of microwaving them, but don't know if this would work with our filling. This filling also works well with manacotti and those we fill dry, cover with sauce (rinse sauce container with some water and pour into dish) and cheese of choice (cut into slices that fit on top of manicotti shells) and bake about 40-45 minutes to cook pasta. If you ever get a chance to use the family's version, let me know. Or if you find it can be microwaved, I'd like to know also

Posted October 28, 2011 by c A.

iv done this recipe with cream of chicken soup on top with cheese,,i suffed the shells with chicken,stuffing and sour cream,,,this one looks good and easy to make too,i cant wait to try this!!!

Posted October 22, 2011 by tammy m.
Test Kitchen Comment
From: Becky
Tammy, let me know what you think once you’ve tried the recipe – I’d love to hear about your experience.
Posted November 07, 2011

Not like any stuffed shells I or any Italian restaurant or authentic local prepared food company has ever had....I'll go with ricotta and a little sauteed chopped meat and an egg for stuffing, thanks. The concept of pre-preparing, of course, is always sensible.

Posted March 10, 2011 by moi

I love this idea. My boys are only 3 and 5, but I do have a 19 year old nephew who is right now eating large pancakes, and drinking chocolate milk....(He is on Spring Break from college). I probably will add some with just a cheese, but I like the idea of freezing for future use. How long can I freeze them for? This would be great to keep in the freezer for taking to church, dropping off to friends who have just had a baby, or for people who have lost loved ones. I remember when my father in law passed away, I think we had about 6 baked ham, and ton of fried chicken. (we live in the deep south). All was good, but after a few days, when the neighbor next door made a large pan of lasagna and baked ziti, we all devoured it. Thanks for the recipe and directions.

Posted March 10, 2011 by Karen

I have not had stuffed pasta shells in years. After reading your Test Kitchen Blog I am going to make those stuffed shells this weekend. In years past my brother would call me when he wanted to invite his girlfriend over for dinner and have me make the stuffed shells and he would come get them. I don't think the girl ever knew he didn't cook them himself. So this blog brings back beautiful memories.

Posted March 09, 2011 by BJ

The best part of stuffed shells is the ricotta cheese. Where's the cheese????

Posted March 09, 2011 by Maria