These delicious stuffed shells are filled with three kinds of cheese (cottage cheese, parmesan, and mozzarella) and baked with delicious marinara sauce. This family-friendly dinner is super easy to make and so tasty!
Here’s what you need to make these delicious cheese stuffed shells:
3 types of cheese: cottage cheese, low-moisture mozzarella (not fresh), and parmesan cheese.
For the best flavor make sure to grate the cheese yourself and do not use pre-grated.
Am I the only one that doesn’t care for ricotta? I mean, I like it added to dishes like these ricotta meatballs, lemon ricotta doughnuts, or lemon ricotta pancakes where it provides a creamy and fluffy texture. I’m just not really that fond of ricotta on its own so I prefer cottage cheese here much more. It’s also lower in fat making this dish more calorie-friendly! You can use ricotta instead of cottage cheese in this recipe if this is what you prefer.
An egg – binds the filling together.
Spices – Italian herbs, dried basil, garlic powder, onion powder. Use fresh herbs, especially basil, if you have some on hand.
Marinara sauce – you can use store-bought or homemade. My homemade marinara sauce is super quick and easy to make (it will be ready in 20 minutes!) and it’s very flavorful! You will need the whole recipe of my marinara sauce or 3-4 cups of store-bought sauce (depending on how saucy you want it).
Jumbo pasta shells – this recipe would also work with cannelloni pasta.
What could you also add
This recipe is very flexible, there are many other ingredients you could add to it:
- spinach – I actually developed this recipe with spinach at first but as it turned out my daughter doesn’t like it so I ended up making it without spinach, if your kids are less fussy you can add about 9 ounces (250g) of chopped spinach to the filling (saute the spinach with fresh chopped garlic and butter in a pan)
- chicken – you can pan-fry finely diced chicken breast or use rotisserie chicken if you have some on hand
- ground beef or Italian sausage – you could add it to your tomato sauce
- leftover grilled veggies – chop them and add them to the filling
How to make cottage cheese stuffed shells step by step
STEP 1: Start with cooking the pasta shells: Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
I don’t usually add olive oil to pasta while it’s being cooked because it prevents the sauce from sticking to the noodles. Here the noodles are stuffed with a filling and baked with the sauce so this doesn’t matter. Cooking pasta with olive oil prevents it from sticking to each other and to the bottom of the pot – there is less chance that your shells will be damaged.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook it 2 minutes shorter than the recommended time on the package. You want it slightly undercooked. This way it will not be mushy after it has been baked – it will be perfect.
Stir the pasta from time to time with a wooden spoon making sure it doesn’t stick to the pot. Drain, toss with cold water, and drain again (this also prevents the pasta from sticking to each other).
Make sure you drain the shells well, so they are not watery.
TIP: You can cook some extra pasta shells in case some stick together or rip but I’ve found that using these simple tricks that doesn’t really happen!
Key tips to keep your pasta shells from breaking – summary:
- add olive oil to pasta cooking water
- slightly undercook the shells
- stir the pasta often with a wooden spoon
- drain and toss with cold water
Next, preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C/Gas Mark 5, no fan.
STEP 2 (photos 1+2): Make the filling: add all the filling ingredients into a large bowl (well-drained cottage cheese, grated Parmesan, shredded mozzarella, Italian herbs, basil, onion and garlic powder, egg), stir until combined, season with salt and pepper.
STEP 3: Spread the marinara sauce in a 9×13-inch (22x32cm) casserole dish.
STEP 4: Fill each pasta shell with the cheese filling. Arrange the shells with the stuffing side up in the baking dish.
If you don’t like stuffing the shells with a spoon you could try using a piping bag or a thick zip-lock bag with a corner cut off. I personally feel it’s easy enough to just use a teaspoon.
STEP 5: Top the shells with remaining mozzarella cheese.
STEP 6: Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover the dish and put it under the broiler. Bake for 3-5 minutes or until the cheese is browned (keep an eye on it, it can burn quickly!).
Take out of the oven and let rest for 10 minutes (the sauce will thicken).
How to reheat: This dish reheats very well. Keep it in the fridge, covered, for up to 3-4 days. To reheat place it in a cold oven, set it to 325°F/165°C and bake for about 10-15 minutes or until warm.
How to freeze: It can also be frozen. Freeze it for up to 6 months, thaw in the fridge then reheat in the oven or bake it at 325°F/165°C straight from the freezer.
How to make it ahead: you can prepare marinara (if you’re making your own) and keep it in the fridge for up to 3 days. You can keep the filling for up to 24 hours in the fridge. I don’t recommend keeping stuffed, but not baked shells in the fridge – they will get mushy, but it is certainly possible. You could prepare the whole dish and keep it in the fridge for up to 12 hours then bake it. You can store cooked but not stuffed shells in the fridge for up to 2 days. Make sure they are coated with olive oil on all sides to keep them from sticking to each other.
- simple green salad with vinaigrette
- boiled green beans / steamed broccoli
- Kohlrabi Slaw
- Mizeria (Polish cucumber salad)
- Cucumber avocado tomato salad with dill and feta (I would omit the feta)
- Green beans almondine
You should count 6 stuffed shells for a lighter meal or about 10 stuffed shells for a generous meal.
The main difference is just the pasta shape. Manicotti is a dish made with pasta shaped like tubes, they are usually filled with meat while stuffed shells are made with conchiglie pasta and are stuffed with different kinds of fillings, usually with ricotta and spinach.
Conchiglie, commonly known as “shells” or “seashells”, is a type of pasta. It is usually sold in the plain durum wheat variety.
Make sure to drain your pasta shells and cottage cheese/ricotta cheese very thoroughly. If your ricotta cheese is not good-quality it can be exceptionally watery – make sure to drain it on a sieve or pat it dry with paper towels.
Did you make this recipe? RATE THE RECIPE or tell me in the COMMENTS how you liked it! You can also add a photo of your dish. It would make me very happy and will help other readers. Thank you!!
Cottage cheese Stuffed Shells
for the shells:
- 3 cups marinara sauce
- 7 oz Jumbo shells about 27 shells, 200g
- 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella 150g
for the filling:
- 16 oz cottage cheese 450g
- 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese 70g
- 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella 150g
- 1 teaspoon Italian herbs
- 1 teaspoon basil or small handful fresh chopped leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 large egg
- salt and pepper
- Cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the pasta and cook it 2 minutes shorter than the recommended time on the package. Stir the pasta from time to time with a wooden spoon making sure it doesn't stick to the pot. Drain, toss with cold water and drain again.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C/Gas Mark 5, no fan.
- Make the filling: add all the filling ingredients into a large bowl (well-drained cottage cheese, grated Parmesan, shredded mozzarella, Italian herbs, basil, onion and garlic powder, egg), stir until combined, season with salt and pepper.
- Spread the marinara sauce in a 9×13-inch (22x32cm) casserole dish.
- Fill each pasta shell with the cheese filling. Arrange the shells with the stuffing side up in the baking dish.
- Top the shells with remaining mozzarella cheese.
- Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.
- Uncover the dish and put it under the broiler. Bake for 3-5 minutes or until the cheese is browned (keep an eye on it, it can burn quickly).
- Take out of the oven and let rest for 10 minutes (the sauce will thicken).
- Ingredient notes:
- You can also use ricotta cheese for this recipe. Make sure it’s not too watery.
- For the best flavor make sure to grate the cheese yourself and do not use pre-grated.
- This recipe would also work with cannelloni pasta.
- You can add about 9 ounces (250g) of chopped spinach to the filling (saute the spinach with fresh chopped garlic and butter in a pan).
- You could also add pan-fried or rotisserie chicken to the filling, leftover grilled veggies, or ground beef or sausage to the tomato sauce.
- Use low-moisture ‘yellow’ mozzarella and not fresh mozzarella in brine for this recipe.
- Calories = 1 serving (1/4 of the recipe). This is only an estimate!