Although stuffed shells are a little time consuming to fill, they are definitely worth the work. A pan of stuffed shells would provide our family of four with two meals when paired with a salad and garlic bread. Win win in my opinion.
I love stuffed shells but never tried them until I was an adult. Growing up, my favorite meal at our local Italian Restaurant was always lasagna. Anytime I had a chance to eat there I always ordered it because my mom only made lasagna once a year – Superbowl Sunday. I have no clue why that tradition started but that’s the one time of year we had homemade lasagna.
Both of my kids loved to eat Italian food when they were younger. My son loved spaghetti, but occasionally we mixed up Italian night with lasagna, chicken parmesan for my daughter, and these amazing cheesy stuffed shells.
I feel like stuffed shells are a great way to feed a family on a budget. You can leave out the meat if you’re trying to save money or are looking for a vegetarian meal. Also, stuffed shells are the perfect meal to add more veggies into your diet. Sometimes I chop a bag of fresh spinach, saute it in about a tsp. of oil, and then add it to my stuffed shells cheese mixture or to the pasta sauce as its warmed up with the meat.
Most of our Italian meals are served alongside a garden salad and bread made from random slices of bread, or lonely hamburger or hot dog buns hanging out in the pantry. I grew up in a family that didn’t waste food and although I try my best to use up every piece of bread, we often have a few slices of sandwich bread or 2 random hamburger or hot dog buns that are perfectly good but won’t make a meal for all of us. Smeared with butter, dried garlic powder, parsley, oregano, and basil flakes, and a little parmesan cheese turns those rando pieces of bread, destined for the trash, into a great side. Waste no more, problem solved!!
Make a big pan of these stuffed shells so that you can feed your family for a couple of nights. I promise that your family will thank you for dinner!
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 9 x 13 casserole dish and set aside. Boil a box of jumbo shells in a pot of salted water. Brown 3/4 of a pound of ground beef. Season the meat with a little salt, pepper, garlic powder and dried parsley while it cooks. Drain the grease off of the meat when it is done and add a jar of your favorite pasta sauce. We like Ragu less sugar added Garden Variety. Warm the meat and sauce.
In a medium bowl, mix one large egg, 1 cup of mozarella, one small container of cottage cheese, one small container of ricotta cheese, 1 Tbsp. of dried parsley flakes, and a little salt and pepper. This is your noodle filling. If you are adding spinach drain any excess liquid from it and add it to this mixture.
When the noodles are al dente drain them and set out on a tray to keep them from sticking. Don’t overcook your noodles because they will be cooking in the oven too.
Put half of the meat sauce into the bottom of the casserole dish. Stuff your noodles with the cheese mixture and then place them into the casserole dish. When all of the noodles are stuffed pour the other half of the meat mixture over the top of the stuffed shells and top with about 1 to 1.5 cups of shredded mozarella cheese. You can also sprinkle a little shredded parmesan cheese on top as well.
Cover the casserole dish with foil and bake for about 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for about 10 more minutes. If you want to broil your cheese on top you can place under the broiler for about 2 minutes, but watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn. All ovens bake differently. Check your shells to see when they are completely heated through and adjust your times accordingly.