Three-Cheese Stuffed Shells + my Simple “Stuffing” Secret

posted by Andrea | 11/1/2012

One of my favorite comfort foods is pasta — any type of pasta, any type of sauce.

I love pasta!

It just so happens that most pasta dishes are extremely simple and frugal to prepare. Plus, since most of the ingredients for my favorite pasta recipes are non-perishable, I almost always have them in our pantry. Oh, and did I mention that most pasta dishes freeze well too!

Pasta is just the perfect food!

There is rarely a week that goes by when we don’t have pasta at least once during the week (thankfully Dave likes pasta too) so I’m always looking for new recipes to mix up our menu plan a bit.

Recently I’ve been making different varieties of “stuffed shells” but was a little put off by how difficult it was to stuff the shells, especially if I included chunky stuffing like mushrooms, meat, spinach, etc.

However, the last few times I’ve made stuffed pasta, I used an extremely simple method to “stuff” the shells. I decided to slice each shell down the middle BEFORE I stuffed it, then fill it with whatever mixture I was using for the stuffing, and squeeze it back together again.

To my delight, it worked fabulously, and if I put the sliced “seam” down in the pan, none of the filling seeped out… and no one besides you will ever know you cheated!

It took me all of 5 minutes to stuff an entire box of Manicotti shells (14 per package)… and before, I was spending almost 5 minutes per shell 🙂

OK, so now that you know my super simple secret to stuffing pasta shells, here’s the super simple recipe I use to stuff them with.

Recipe for Three-Cheese Stuffed Shells:

{If you’d like to print this recipe, just click the “clean print” button at the top of the post}


  • One box Manicotti shells (14 shells)
  • One 24 oz. container cottage or ricotta cheese
  • 2 c. Mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 c. Parmesan cheese
  • 2 t. dried Basil
  • 1 t. dried Oregano
  • 1 t. garlic powder
  • 1 jar pasta sauce (or you can make your own)
  • 1 4 oz. can mushrooms; chopped (optional)
  • 1 c. ground beef; cooked (optional)
  • 1 c. frozen spinach; chopped (optional)


  • In a large pot, boil shells according to package instructions (usually about 7 minutes)
  • Drain shells, return to pan, and cover with cold water (this keeps them from sticking together
  • In a medium bowl, mix 3 cheeses, basil, oregano garlic powder, and any of the optional mix-ins
  • Spray a 9″x13″ baking pan (or 2 smaller pans) with cooking spray and cover with a small amount of sauce
  • Slice shells down the side and stuff with about 2-3 T. of cheese filling
  • Squeeze the shells back together and place (seam-side-down) in the baking pan
  • Pour the rest of the sauce over the shells and sprinkle with a little extra Mozzarella and/or Parmesan cheese
  • Bake at 350* for 20 minutes or until heated through
  • Enjoy stuffed shells with a lot less effort!

This recipe is definitely a favorite of ours, so I usually make a double batch and put a bunch in the freezer. I defrost it in the fridge (usually for 24 hours) and then bake for about 40 minutes (covered with tinfoil so the shells don’t dry out).

It’s SO easy to make — plus it tastes like a gourmet meal 🙂

What is your favorite pasta dish?

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Leave a comment


  1. Lauren Dekker


    Soooo delicious!! I substituted feta for the parm and used frozen Kale and ground venison!!! Yummo!!!! I had never made stuffed shells so this was fun!


    Andrea Reply:

    yuummm… sounds delicious!


  2. Megan Camp


    Manicotti is my husbands favorite dish. When I first made it for him when we were dating, his mom said to just follow the recipe on the box. Unfortunately, the recipe on the box I found included shredded carrots. He ate it and was like “WHAT is this? Carrots don’t belong in manicotti!!” I never added shredded carrots again. 🙂

    Two things I do with our manicotti that we love is we use crepe shells instead of pasta for our manicotti. It wraps the exact same way as your sliced shells, takes a few minutes to whip up a batch and I almost always have the ingredients on hand. It makes it taste like it was made a Buca de Beppo.
    WHen I freeze the manicotti, I flash freeze the cheese wrapped in the crepe shell on a cookie sheet in the freezer. Once frozen, I put into ziplock bags. Then, the wrapper doesn’t get soggy in the sauce and when I want to make it the next time, I can just choose however many we need for that meal depending on if we have guests etc., put it in fresh sauce and bake.

    The crepe recipe I use is from my Vita-mix cookbook and I’ve posted it on my blog.


  3. Karen


    Brilliant! This is our favorite pasta dish too, but it doesn’t happen as often as it could because of the shell stuffing issue. Funny how the best solutions are usually the simplest – and how often we look for something complicated. Thanks! I think we’re going to have this for dinner tonight – I even have a bit of spinach still growing in the garden.


  4. Debbie


    That’s a genius idea about cutting open the manicotti shells! I’m going to have to try it!


  5. Jenn


    Ann, you are likely cooking the pasta (at the boil stage) too long, initially. You should be cooking it to just al dente.


  6. Ann


    Looks delicious! I use the jumbo shells instead of manicotti shells. They are really easy too, just spread open, fill, and push closed.
    What is the secret for freezing pasta dishes? My frozen batch never tastes as good the first batch. The pasta seems soggy.


    Renea B. Reply:

    I’m curious, too. I’d like to make a batch to freeze.


    Danielle Reply:

    When I freeze shells, I don’t put them in sauce first. I cook them to al dente. I stuff them and line them up on a sheet pan in the freezer and then once frozen put them in freezer bags. I pretty much always have sauce and mozzarella cheese around so then I pull them out, put them in the sauce, cover with mozzarella and bake as normal (bake from frozen).


  7. Rachel


    My secret when making stuffed shells is putting the filling in a big ziploc bag and squeezing it out like frosting. Easier and less messy than using a spoon! We eat a lot of pasta too. I like Skinny Taste’s recipes for baked pasta dishes. They’re all so good!