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Easy Four Cheese Stuffed Shells feature jumbo shells swathed in cheesy goodness and finished in creamy white sauce brimming with fresh herbs.
Scoot over Olive Garden! I’m calling all cheese lovers to rejoice! An incredibly delicious meatless meal assembled with jumbo pasta shells, Italian cheeses, fresh herbs, and bechamel, this recipe for Four Cheese Stuffed Shells ticks all the boxes!
Made with four different kinds of cheese, this carb-loaded weeknight pasta recipe is packed with flavor making it the perfect dish for a casual weeknight meal. Serve with parmesan cheese, green salad, and garlic bread for a satisfying classic comfort dish, the ultra-rich cheese mixture is popular with kids and adults alike.
Jumbo shell-shaped pasta noodles are filled (spoon-in or piping bag) with an herbed cheese filling made of ricotta and mozzarella cheese, mascarpone, and goat cheese. The filled shells are arranged in a baking dish and blanketed with a silky pasta sauce. They’re baked until the top of the shells emerge golden brown, and the sauce bubbling.
Ingredients That Go Into This Recipe
A dusting of parmesan is optional for serving. Double (or triple!) the recipe as I have done here, because this giant cheese stuffed shells recipe is twice as tasty the second time around!
- Giant pasta shells – also sold as conchiglioni; adding 2 tablespoons of sea salt to the water once it comes to a boil is enough to perfectly season each cooked shell. Follow the package directions for ‘al dente.’
- Sea Salt – seasons the pasta water.
- Olive oil – added to the pasta water to help avoid shells sticking to one another.
- Whole milk ricotta cheese – the mother of Italian cheeses with its mild taste and creamy texture.
- Goat cheese – also sold as fromage de chèvre; choose from different styles of chèvre, from fresh and soft to aged and hard. I am using a soft herbed variety but some of the tangier hard ages chèvres can be deliciously creative!
- Mascarpone – Italian fresh cheese similar in texture to cream cheese, but far richer and slightly sweet.
- Low-moisture mozzarella – shred your own; it melts more evenly, doesn’t contain cellulose or nearly the number of preservatives as pre-shredded, and it tastes better.
- Basil – FRESH!
- Chives – FRESH!
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- Salted butter
- AP flour
- Half and half
- Whole milk – a high-fat milk ensures an ultra-rich-best-flavor and all around creamy bechamel sauce.
- Nutmeg – fresh if you have it; see my link to the grinder I use in the recipe card.
- Rosemary – FRESH!
- Parmesan cheese – for serving.
- Fresh mozzarella slices – melt on top during the final 10 minutes of the bake.
- Pecorino Romano cheese – for serving.
- Basil leaves – for garnish.
Substitutions and Variations
- Sautéed garlic in olive oil – lots of it; but sauté gently and only for a minute or two so it remains pungent before adding to the ricotta mixture.
- Spinach – fresh or frozen, simply wilt or thaw, then thoroughly squeeze moisture from leaves using a clean dish towel and wring tightly. Finely chop and add to the ricotta mixture.
- Sundried tomatoes – drained, finely chopped; add to the ricotta mixture.
- Italian sausage – cooked, crumbled, drained; add to the ricotta mixture.
- Ground beef or bison – cooked, crumbled, drained; add to the ricotta mixture.
- Substitute feta – in lieu of the goat cheese if desired.
- Your favorite creamy alfredo sauce – substitute in lieu of the bechamel.
Have A Picky Eater Who Won’t Eat Pasta Without Marinara?
If you’ve got a picky eater who associates pasta ONLY with marinara, a basic version of marinara works remarkably well along with the bechamel sauce. Less is best! Dot parts of the surface with sauce just before placing in the oven.
How Many Stuffed Shells Per Person?
- Conchiglioni means ‘sea shell’ in Italian. Any and all shell-shaped pasta is conchiglioni pasta.
Stay with me…
- The smallest shell shape is called conchigliette and the largest shell shape is called conchiglioni.
- Use conchiglioni or ‘gigante/jumbo shells’ for this recipe.
Now that you know the size, how do you figure how many per person?
- A good rule of thumb to follow for any type of pasta is 2 ounces of dry pasta per person…unless you’re a little person, in which case, mom will know!
- This recipe yields 24 shells with sauce. I serve six shells per person making this four servings.
And hey, if you have leftovers, these not only reheat well, but my family insists they are tastier the next day!
Can I Make Stuffed Shells Ahead?
YES! These make an insane amount of sense when it comes to meal prep.
- Store unbaked stuffed shells in an airtight container until ready to top with bechamel and bake, up to 1 day.
- Prefer to freeze? Assemble and freeze for up to 3 months.
Step By Step Instructions
Some methods will instruct you to use a pastry bag when filling your shells. I’d rather spoon my filling. Though messy, the rudimentary preparation of food is humanizing and for me, cathartic. I hope you allow yourself to enjoy the process 😉
1: Preheat your oven to 350°F. Select a roaster or a baker that will hold the correct number of shells you plan to assemble. This recipe makes enough filling to fill 24 shells. Grease or spray the roaster LIGHTLY. I prefer butter for this. Follow the package directions for ‘al dente’ and cook the conchiglioni. DO NOT COOK PAST AL DENTE. Drain and set aside.
2: Ultimately, the decision of whether to buy a block of mozzarella and shred it yourself or buy pre-shredded cheese is a personal one. If you want fresh flavorful cheese, shredding your own is the way to go. I prefer low-moisture mozzarella to use in the filling. If you want to use fresh mozzarella, top the shells with slices during the final 10 minutes of the bake.
3: Meanwhile, and over very low heat on a back burner, combine whole milk together with half and half in a saucepan. Give it a little stir and let it go.
4: The milk mixture is meant to warm slowly. If you see it steaming, lower the heat. This should remain warming until you are ready to make the bechamel.
5: Fresh herbs have a brighter, more vibrant flavor than dried herbs. Fresh herbs contain oils which are responsible for their flavor. When herbs are dried, these oils evaporate, leaving behind a less flavorful herb. I strongly recommend going fresh all the way in this method. If basil or chives don’t excite you, opt instead for fresh parsley or thyme.
6: Prepare the cheese and herb filling in a large mixing bowl. Stir the ricotta together with mascarpone, goat, and mozzarella cheeses. Add in two large eggs and plenty of Kosher salt and pepper. Lastly, stir in your fresh chopped herbs. Set aside. NOTE: if making a variation, add the ingredients you plan to use to the ricotta cheese filling now.
7: To prepare the bechamel sauce, first melt salted butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Adjust the temperature so the butter does not melt too fast – we are going to brown the butter, and going slow is crucial!
8: As the butter melts, it will also begin to foam. Adjust the heat so as not to burn the milk solids gathering in the bottom of the saucepan. Allow the foam to mostly disappear. Toast or brown the milk solids. The aroma will be nutty and the hue golden brown.
9: Once you’ve achieved brown butter, add in all-purpose flour all at once and stir to incorporate.
10: Turn the heat back up to medium to cook out the raw flour smell and taste, about 3 to 4 minutes.
11: By the time the raw flour has cooked out, a couple of things will be noticeable; first, you will have a homogeneous paste. Second, you will detect a nutty aroma emerging from your saucepan once again.
12: Adjust the heat to medium-high and add in the warm milk mixture one cup at a time stirring constantly until smooth. Continue to stir as you bring the mixture to a low boil. Reduce heat slightly and cook for 8 to 10 minutes.
13: The consistency of the bechamel will thicken as it cooks. This is correct as a portion will be intentionally thinned out for the bottom of the baking pan. Remove it from the heat. Add in 1/2-teaspoon of Kosher salt and several good grinds of fresh nutmeg. If you do not have fresh, add 1/2-teaspoon dry. Set aside.
14: Add 3/4 to 1-cup of the bechamel into the prepared roaster or baking dish. If too thick, thin with 1/2-cup of water and mix. I add water regardless. The moisture from this bottom layer will finish cooking the shells making them fork tender once fully baked. The water just helps the process along without affecting flavor.
15: Fill each shell with the cheese and herb mixture and arrange in a single layer on top of the sauce in the roaster or baking dish, filling-side-up.
16: Drizzle the remaining bechamel over the arranged shells. Sprinkle rosemary leaves on top and dust with a pinch of salt and pepper.
17: Bake the shells in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until the shells are golden and the sauce is bubbling and heated through. Engage the broiler element and broil 1 to 2 minutes until the top is lightly browned. Allow the shells to stand to 5 minutes. The filling will be hot! Sprinkle with additional chopped herbs if desired before serving. Offer grated parmesan tableside.
How to Serve Four Cheese Stuffed Shells
- Offer grated parmesan or pecorino Romano tableside.
- Bake some garlic bread or merely butter and slice a baguette.
- A green salad is a lovely balance to the richness of this pasta dish.
- Cooked link sausages or meatballs in marinara sauce in conjunction with stuffed shells a meal enough to feed a small army!
Want to Assemble Now but Bake Later?
Fill the shells and place in a single layer into an airtight container by up to 1 day. When ready to bake, arrange according to the recipe card directions. Bake and watch them disappear!
- Store fully baked leftover shells in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Remove from refrigeration 30 minutes before reheating. Warm in a small casserole dish in a 350°F oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until heated through.
- Freeze fully assembled but unbaked shells in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. Defrost in refrigerator overnight. Pick up with directions for the bechamel sauce and baking where you left off in the recipe card.
Jenny’s Recipe Pro Tips
- Thin the bechamel sauce with water and spread on the bottom of the baking dish. The pasta will absorb the moisture and be fork tender when baked. See Step 14.
- Nutmeg is typical in any bechamel, and I strongly recommend using fresh nutmeg to achieve a delicious level of intensity.
- If assembling for a gathering and needing to keep warm while you await guests or prepare other foods, wrap the fully baked dish with aluminum foil to prevent the shells from drying out.
If you cook the shells past al dente, they will tear as you fill them. The pasta may also end up mushy, since it continues to cook as the stuffed shells bake. Boil ONLY until al dente according to the package directions.
Whole milk ricotta is the best cheese for baking dishes like stuffed shells and lasagnas.
A good rule of thumb to follow for any type of pasta is 2 ounces of dry pasta per person.
More Baked Pasta Meals You’ll Love
Easy Four Cheese Stuffed Shells
- 24 jumbo pasta shells add 2 tablespoons sea salt and 1 teaspoon olive oil to boiling water; prepare to al dente per package instructions and cool; do NOT cook beyond al dente
- 2 tablespoons sea salt
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 30 ounce container whole milk ricotta cheese
- 2 ounces mascarpone cheese softened to room temperature
- 2 ounces goat cheese crumbled; softened to room temperature
- 3/4 to 1 cup low moisture mozzarella cheese shredded from a large block
- 1/4 cup basil fresh; chopped
- 1 tablespoon chives fresh; chopped
- 4 tablespoons assortment of chopped fresh herbs parsley, basil, oregano,
- 2 large eggs warmed to room temperature
- 5 tablespoons salted butter
- 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups half and half
- 2 cups whole milk
- nutmeg fresh to taste or 1/2-teaspoon dry
- rosemary fresh; leaves separated from stem
- Kosher salt
- black pepper
- parmesan cheese optional for serving
- fresh mozzarella optional; melt on top in final 10 minutes of baking
- pecorino Romano cheese optional for serving
- fresh basil leaves optional for garnish
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease or spray a roaster LIGHTLY. Combine whole milk together with half and half in a saucepan and place on a rear burner over low heat.
- In a large bowl, stir together the ricotta, mascarpone, goat, and mozzarella cheeses. Add in both eggs and Kosher salt and pepper to taste. Stir in herbs. Set aside. NOTE: if making a variation, add the ingredients you plan to use to the ricotta cheese filling now.
- Melt butter over medium heat in a saucepan adjusting the temperature so the butter does not melt too fast. After the butter is done foaming, the milk solids will begin to brown. Again, it is crucial the steps to brown butter NOT be rushed, so adjust temperature down if necessary. Butter is ready when aroma is nutty and the color is golden brown.
- Once you've achieved brown butter, add in all-purpose flour and stir to incorporate. Turn the heat back up to medium to cook out the raw flour smell and taste, about 3 to 4 minutes. Use your nose to detect a nutty aroma emerging from your saucepan once again.
- Adjust heat to medium-high and add in the warm milk 1-cup at a time whisking constantly. Continue to whisk as you bring the mixture to a low boil. Reduce heat slightly and cook for 8 to 10 minutes stirring frequently. The consistency of the bechamel will thicken as it cooks.
- Remove bechamel from heat. Add 1/2-teaspoon salt and several good grinds of fresh nutmeg. If you do not have fresh, add 1/2-teaspoon dry. Set aside.
- Add 3/4 to 1-cup of the bechamel into the prepared roaster or baking dish. Before doing so, and if you feel it's too thick, thin in a separate bowl by whisking with 1/2-cup water. The moisture from this bottom layer will finish cooking the pasta making them fork tender once fully baked. The water aids the process without affecting flavor so do not be afraid to thin the bottom layer of bechamel if you need to.
- Stuff each shell with filling. Arrange in a single layer on top of the sauce in the roaster or baking dish, filling-side-up. Drizzle the remaining bechamel over the arranged shells. Sprinkle rosemary leaves on top and dust with a pinch of Kosher salt and pepper.
- Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until shells are golden and sauce is heated through. Sauce will bubble. Switch to your broiler and broil 1 to 2 minutes until the top is lightly browned. Allow the shells to stand to 5 minutes. The filling will be hot! Sprinkle with additional chopped herbs if desired before serving. Offer grated parmesan tableside.
The nutrition value can vary depending on what product(s) you use. The information below is an estimate. Always use a calorie counter you are familiar with.
Please note that table salt and iodized salt are NOT substitutions for Kosher salt. Do not deviate unless otherwise specified.