Recipe Spotlight

Make Unstuffed Stuffed Shells

This weeknight meal captures all the flavors without all the fuss. 

Published Jan. 31, 2023.

There’s nothing wrong with stuffed shells. Little cups of pasta bursting with cheese and smothered in sauce?

That’s my kind of dinner.

But let’s face it: Making them is a process. Tediously stuffing each and every individual par-boiled pasta shell? Nobody has time for that on a weeknight.

Do yourself a favor. Make unstuffed stuffed shells instead.

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This is a much easier take on stuffed shells, capturing all the flavor with less work.

Butternut squash, leeks, and garlic provide the base to the dish. A touch of white wine and heavy cream adds a luxurious decadence. 

Rather than “stuffing” our shells, we dollop the dish with Parmesan and lemony ricotta before baking until bubbly and golden.

The best part? Everything comes together in a single dish. No par-boiling required!


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One-Pan Wonders features 138 Fuss-Free Meals for Your Sheet Pan, Dutch Oven, Skillet, Roasting Pan, Casserole, and Slow Cooker. Weeknight dinners solved!

These unstuffed stuffed shells are a fuss-free, comforting, and delicious weeknight meal.

Unstuffed Shells

Serves 4 to 6

Total time: 1¼ hours

You can substitute large or medium shells, ziti, farfalle, campanelle, or orecchiette for the jumbo shells here. The skillet will be very full when you add the shells in step 3 (stir gently to start), but will become more manageable as the liquid evaporates and the shells become more malleable. You will need a 12-inch ovensafe nonstick skillet for this recipe.

  • 8 ounces (1 cup) whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • ¾ teaspoon table salt, divided
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1½ pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ½-inch pieces (5 cups)
  • 1 pound leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced thin, and washed thoroughly
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 12 ounces jumbo pasta shells
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Combine ricotta, ½ cup Parmesan, lemon zest, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper in bowl; cover and refrigerate until needed.

2. Heat oil in 12-inch ovensafe nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add squash, leeks, and ½ teaspoon salt and cook until leeks are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add wine and cook until almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute.

3. Stir in water and cream, then add pasta. Increase heat to medium-high and cook at vigorous simmer, stirring gently and often, until pasta is tender and liquid has thickened, about 15 minutes.

4. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle remaining ½ cup Parmesan over top, then dollop evenly with ricotta mixture. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until Parmesan is melted and spotty brown, about 5 minutes. Remove skillet from oven (skillet handle will be hot). Let cool for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with basil and serve.

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