Stuffed is such an evocative word: It’s the delightfully paunchy teddy bear, the easy chair you never want to leave. In food, of course, it’s often a comforting, cheese-filled kind of overabundance, from bell peppers to Medjool dates and chicken breasts to empanadas. Ricotta-stuffed pasta shells definitely belong in that big, comforting, stuffed-foods family, and yet what we love about this dish is that it somehow manages to be exactly what you want (a cheesy sauce-fest) without feeling too heavy.
How did the test kitchen achieve that? First, the shells are cooked to al dente prior to baking, so they come out of the oven tender, but not chewy or mushy. Second, the whole milk ricotta is whipped up with egg, Parm, parsley, and Italian seasoning, much like it would be in a lasagna. It’s as fluffy as a cloud, and it tastes very fresh and herby. And last but never least, the tomato sauce is a light, simple affair — canned tomatoes, olive oil, and a handful of aromatics — but it’s bright and flavorful.
Put that all together with a small amount of melty mozzarella over the top, and you have a perfect bite — light, comforting, and deeply satisfying, in all the right ratios. Make this dish when you’re looking for an easy weeknight meal the kids will love, but you don’t want to fall asleep in the easy chair after dinner. We’d pair it with a green salad and a glass or two of red wine.
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the cooked pasta
½ large yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp dried oregano
2 Tbsp Italian seasoning, divided
1 tsp kosher salt, divided
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 15-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 15-oz can tomato sauce
15 oz whole milk ricotta cheese
2 tsp chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 large Gelson’s egg
10 oz conchiglioni or large-shell pasta, cooked al dente, tossed with olive oil, and cooled on a sheet pan
¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat the oven to 350º.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
Add the onions and sweat until translucent, stirring frequently as they cook, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and sauté for an additional 3 minutes.
Stir in the oregano, 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper.
Add the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce, and stir. Simmer the sauce for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta, remaining 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning, 2 teaspoons parsley, Parmesan, egg, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and remaining ¼ teaspoon black pepper until incorporated.
Line the bottom of a 2-qt baking dish with ⅔ of the sauce.
Using a spoon, fill each cooked pasta shell with about 1 tablespoon of the ricotta mixture and place it open-side up in the baking dish. Continue until all of the pasta has been used and the baking dish is full.
Spoon about 1 tablespoon of sauce over each shell and top with a pinch of mozzarella cheese.
Bake the pasta for 20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese has melted.
Garnish with fresh parsley and serve hot.