Christmas Recipe #2: Vegetarian Stuffed Shells

These are great for feeding a crowd, and they make excellent leftovers the next day, when the last thing you want to think about is cooking. I make them meat-free and will often throw in different veggies to vary the sauce — think spinach or kale, sauteed in the pan with the onion and garlic — before I mix in the tomato sauce. You can also add sauteed mushrooms, or crumbled cooked veggie-burger patties, to mimic the feeling of ground meat. If you decide to add beef or sausage, you’ll need about half a pound, and you want to go lean or it gets too greasy. The possibilities with these are endless!


  • 1/2 a package jumbo shells (one package = 12 oz. They only sell this size, so you’ll either need to make a double batch and freeze one pan, or count out about 20 shells to fill one 9×13 glass baking dish).
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 egg
  • 1 jar of pasta sauce (honestly, I seldom make my own sauce for this dish — it just turns an easy recipe into something time-consuming. My preferred sauce for stuffed shells is Classico, the Florentine variety).
  • 1 package shredded mozzarella cheese (about 2 cups)
  • 1 container ricotta cheese (about 15 oz.)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I grate myself — one of my kitchen rules is to never use packaged parm. There’s a huge taste difference).


Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Set a large pot of water on to boil. I find it’s easier to use a large stock pot for this, even though the shells with probably fit into a saucepan, because in a bigger pot they don’t stick inside of each other. Plus, you can easily fish them out of the bigger pot with a slotted spoon, which prevents them from breaking apart like they do when you drain them in a colander.

In a small skillet, combine the chopped onion & garlic with some butter and olive oil (because using a little bit of both, as I always say on this blog, helps prevent the other from burning). I add the garlic after the onion has softened for a minute or two by itself, so the garlic doesn’t scorch.

If you are adding meat, this would be the place to add it — use a bigger skillet than the one I have here, and make sure you drain the fat once it’s browned.

Pour your jarred tomato sauce into a mixing bowl, and add the cooked onion and garlic. Stir. If you are making the meat version, it makes more sense to add the tomato sauce directly into the larger skillet instead of dirtying a bowl.

Next, you want to mix your cheeses.

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, half the mozzarella, (1 cup), the Parmesan and the egg and mix well.

By now, your shells should be done cooking. One by one, remove them from the water with a slotted spoon; place them on a paper towel, face up, so they fall open. You only need to let them cool for a couple minutes, so you can handle them.

Now comes the fun part: stuffing the shells!

Before you stuff the shells, pour half your tomato sauce mixture into the bottom of your baking pan and spread evenly. To start stuffing the shells, use a spoon to scoop up about a tablespoon of the ricotta mixture. Line them up in the pan:

Aren’t they beautiful?

Next, pour the remaining sauce over the top, cover, and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbling. Uncover; top with remaining 1 cup of mozzarella and bake for another 5 minutes.

This makes at least six servings. Serve with a nice salad and you’ve got a delicious Italian dinner! This is a potluck favorite of mine, and added to any holiday spread it gives a tasty option for vegetarians who won’t be having the ham or turkey that’s typically the focus of the meal.

Happy New Year!

8 thoughts on “Christmas Recipe #2: Vegetarian Stuffed Shells

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