Cheesy Stuffed Shells
Serves 6 to 8
For a quicker version of stuffed shells, we got right down to stuffing them—no parboiling first. We found that the quickest and easiest way to fill the raw pasta shells was to choose jumbo shells with wide openings and pipe in the filling using a pastry bag. For a supercheesy filling, we mixed creamy ricotta, shredded fontina, and grated Pecorino Romano cheeses with savory minced garlic, fragrant chopped fresh basil, and dried oregano. We stirred cornstarch into the filling to keep the ricotta from becoming grainy once it was baked. We also stirred in two eggs to make the filling pipable and to keep it from oozing out of the shells during baking. Smothering the filled shells in a thin tomato sauce meant the raw pasta cooked through properly during baking, absorbing liquid while still leaving behind a full-bodied—not chunky or dehydrated—sauce. We baked the shells first covered to trap in as much moisture as possible and cook the pasta and then uncovered to brown the cheese sprinkled over the top and reduce the sauce.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 (28-ounce) can tomato puree
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 10 ounces (1¼ cups) whole-milk ricotta cheese
- 4 ounces fontina cheese, shredded (1 cup)
- 2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (1 cup)
- 2 large eggs
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 25 jumbo pasta shells
- 8 ounces fontina cheese, shredded (2 cups)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
Shred the fontina on the large holes of a box grater. Be sure to use only open, unbroken shells. We developed this recipe using Barilla Jumbo Shells and were able to find at least 25 open shells in each 1-pound box we used. Pipe each shell only about three-quarters full on your first pass, and then divide the remaining filling evenly among the shells.
1. For the sauce: Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
2. Stir in garlic and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomato puree, water, and sugar and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until flavors have melded, about 5 minutes. (Cooled sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)
3. For the filling: Stir all ingredients in bowl until thoroughly combined. Transfer filling to pastry bag or large zipper-lock bag (if using zipper-lock bag, cut 1 inch off 1 corner of bag).
4. For the shells: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Place shells open side up on counter. Pipe filling into shells until each is about three-quarters full. Divide remaining filling evenly among shells.
5. Spread 1 cup sauce over bottom of 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Transfer shells, open side up, to prepared dish. Pour remaining sauce evenly over shells to completely cover.
6. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and set on rimmed baking sheet. Bake until shells are tender and sauce is boiling rapidly, about 45 minutes. Remove dish from oven and discard foil; sprinkle fontina over top. Bake, uncovered, until fontina is lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Let shells cool for 25 minutes. Sprinkle with basil. Serve.