Take a dish of boring spaghetti and meatballs up a notch. Why not try making meatball stuffed pasta shells instead? Smother with a tasty tomato sauce, cover with cheese and you’ll have a meal that will make the whole family come back for seconds.
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Jumbo pasta shells stuffed with meatballs
Move over spaghetti and meatballs! The family is going to love this novel way of preparing the good old standby meal. Instead of just dumping the meatballs onto a pile of spaghetti, this recipe calls for the meatballs to be stuffed inside jumbo pasta shells. The dish is then covered with a deliciously spicy homemade tomato sauce, sprinkled with cheese, and baked in the oven until the cheese is melted and golden.
If you are short on time, you can use frozen meatballs from your local supermarket. If you’d rather make your own meatballs you could try the meatballs in these recipes – spicy meatballs with tomato sauce or Swedish meatballs with creamy mustard sauce. And I’ve also included a meatball recipe with this post.
The sauce is spiced up with a hint of chili, but if you don’t like chili, you can just leave it out. There are plenty of other flavours in the sauce. And when you pour the sauce over the meatballs in the pasta shells, the sauce fills the pasta and surrounds the meatballs, making them so juicy it’s unbelievable.
There are lots of vegetables in the sauce too. It’s packed with onions, tomatoes, and mushrooms. So all you need by way of side dishes would be a slice of crusty garlic bread and perhaps a seasonal salad.
How to make meatball stuffed jumbo pasta shells
See the printable recipe card at the end of this post for the complete list of ingredients and full instructions.
There are only three simple steps for making this recipe:
- prepare and cook the meatballs
- make the sauce
- assemble the dish and bake
Step 1 – Prepare the meatballs
The meatballs are made by combining ground meat with bread, grated onions, eggs, and various spices. I have used all beef for this recipe, but you could use half beef and half pork if you prefer.
The bread is soaked in milk first, to soften it, and then the milk is squeezed out and discarded.
- To make the meatballs, place all the ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix thoroughly to combine.
- Form into golf-ball sized meatballs and then fry gently in the olive oil until the meatballs are nicely browned on all sides.
- Continue to fry, turning occasionally, for another 5 minutes until the meatballs are just cooked through.
- The meatballs will be cooked when they are no longer pink inside. Don’t overcook them – they will cook for a second time when the dish is baked in the oven.
Step 2 – make the sauce
The main ingredients in the sauce are onions, tomatoes, and mushrooms. I like to use white firm mushrooms, but you could use brown chestnut mushrooms or even large portobello mushrooms. You will need about 1 and a half cups of chopped mushrooms.
The other main sauce ingredient is passata. Passata is just blended tomatoes, which have been strained to remove the pips. If you can’t get hold of passata, you can just blend a can of tomatoes and use that instead. Don’t try and substitute with tomato paste – that would be far too concentrated and wouldn’t contain enough liquid to form the sauce.
- Chop tomatoes and onions finely
- Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and allow the onions to sweat gently until they start to soften and become translucent. Don’t allow the onions to brown.
- Add the tomatoes and continue cooking until the tomatoes start to break down. Stir occasionally (image 1 above).
- Add the remaining ingredients (image 2 above), cover the pan with a lid, and leave to simmer for about 30 minutes. Keep the heat on the lowest setting so the sauce does not boil dry.
- You should end up with a thickish runny sauce (image 3 above).
Assemble and bake
To assemble this dish you will need some cooked jumbo pasta shells. I’ve included a picture below of the pasta shells next to a tablespoon so you can see the size of them.
My local supermarket stocks this pasta, but if you can’t source it locally, you should be able to get it from Amazon.
Just boil the shells in lightly salted water until they are al dente. They will continue to cook when the dish bakes in the oven. I always add a few additional shells to the pan in case any of them break up during cooking.
Once cooked, drain the pasta into a colander and rinse under cold running water to stop the cooking process.
- Place one meatball into each pasta shell and arrange in a baking dish.
- Cover the pasta and meatballs with the sauce.
- Sprinkle with grated cheese.
- Bake in a hot oven (200C/400F) for about 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden.
- Remove from the oven and serve hot with slices of crusty garlic bread. If you prefer, you can add a fresh green salad on the side.
Can I freeze meatball stuffed pasta shells?
I would freeze the uncooked meatballs and sauce separately and boil the pasta fresh on the day I make this dish.
To freeze the uncooked meatballs, place them onto a baking tray and then open-freeze until solid. Once frozen, transfer the meatballs to a plastic bag and store them in the freezer for up to 4 months. Freezing meatballs in this way ensures that the meatballs don’t stick together in the freezer and you can just remove as many as you need from the bag.
To freeze the sauce allow it to cool and then transfer to a rigid plastic container and freeze for up to 6 months.
To use, remove the meatballs and sauce from the freezer and allow to defrost. Then follow the steps for frying the meatballs and assembling the dish in the recipe.
Can I make this dish in advance?
You can prepare the dish in advance but don’t add the grated cheese. Cover the assembled dish with plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
When you are ready to use it, remove the dish from the refrigerator and sprinkle with grated cheese, then bake as per the recipe instructions.
If you enjoyed these meatballs stuffed in pasta shells, you may some of my other meals made with pasta:
- cheesy garlic bread pasta bake
- chicken and vegetable pasta bake
- seafood stuffed pasta shells in a creamy sauce
- pasta pescatore
- ham and mushroom tagliatelle with black pepper sauce
Or if you prefer, just have a browse through all my pasta recipes.
Don’t forget to check out my handy Cookery Conversion Calculator if you want to convert any of your recipe measurements from grams to cups, ounces, tablespoons or millilitres and vice versa. You can also use the calculator for converting oven temperatures between Fahrenheit, Celsius, and Gas marks.
If you live at a high altitude you may find you need to adjust your baking recipes to compensate for this. You can read all about it in this post on baking at high altitudes.
Pin for later
Why not pin this recipe for meatballs stuffed in jumbo pasta shells to your Pinterest board so you can make it later. Just click the image below.
Meatball stuffed pasta shells in tomato sauce recipe
Meatball stuffed jumbo pasta shells with tomato sauce
(Click the stars to rate this recipe)
- 1 pound (450g) ground beef
- 1 large egg (or one small egg and 1 egg yolk)
- 2 slices white bread soaked in ¼ cup of milk
- 1 large onion grated
- 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon mixed herbs or Italian herbs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil for frying the meatballs
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 2 large tomatoes finely chopped
- 1½ cups white mushrooms sliced or quartered
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
- 2 cups tomato passata
- salt to taste
- 16 jumbo pasta shells
- ½ cup grated cheddar cheese for topping
- Squeeze the soaked bread gently to remove any excess milk, then combine with the rest of the meatball ingredients (except for the olive oil) in a large mixing bowl.
- Mix thoroughly to combine then form into 16 golf-ball sized meatballs.
- Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the meatballs gently, turning with a pair of tongs, so that they are evenly browned on all sides. Reduce the heat and continue cooking the meatballs, turning occasionally until they are fully cooked. This should take about 5 minutes. Test for doneness by cutting a meatball in half – there should be no pink showing.
- Set aside while you make the sauce.
- Chop the tomatoes and onions finely
- Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and allow the onions to sweat gently until they start to soften and become translucent. Don't allow the onions to brown.
- Add the tomatoes and continue cooking until the tomatoes start to break down. Stir occasionally.
- Add the remaining ingredients, cover with a lid, and leave to simmer for about 30 minutes. Keep the heat on the lowest setting so the sauce does not boil dry.
Assemble and bake
- While the sauce is cooking, put a large saucepan of lightly salted water on to boil. Once the water is boiling, add the pasta shells and allow to boil for the time given on the packet until the pasta is al dente. See note 1.
- Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process. Handle the pasta shells carefully so they don't break.
- Place one meatball in each pasta shell and arrange in a baking dish.
- Cover with the tomato sauce
- Sprinkle with grated cheese
- Bake in a hot oven (200°C / 400°F) for about 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden.
- Remove from the oven and serve with slices of toasted garlic bread.
I am not a nutritionist. The nutrition information has been calculated using an on-line calculator, and is intended for information and guidance purposes only. If the nutrition information is important to you, you should consider calculating it yourself, using your preferred tool.
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