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.

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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.

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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.

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

Ready to make the recipe? Let’s get started making Stuffed Pasta Shells!

Stuffed Pasta Shells Image
Stuffed Pasta Shells