These cottage cheese stuffed shells with ground beef are EXTRA. Extra saucy, extra cheesy, and extra delicious.
Around here, we’re crazy about lasagna. Specifically my Mom’s Cottage Cheese Lasagna recipe.
But where do you turn to if the mozza-topped classic just isn’t CHEESY enough for you? First, try searching through our favorite Ground Beef Pasta recipes, and if you can't find something there...
The answer then is this Cottage Cheese Stuffed Shells with Ground Beef.
Why You’ll Love Stuffed Shells with Ground Beef
Jumbo Shells - Jumbo pasta shells just have a magic appeal. Maybe they’re reminiscent of the Creamy Mac and Cheese your picky kid would probably rather be eating. Or maybe it’s that they feel like our regular shells dinner has been embiggened.
Cheesy - These cottage cheese stuffed shells are ridiculously cheesy. And I don’t mean with that flavorless ricotta paste that ruins many Italian dishes for me. This cheese blend is the rich, stretchy, oozing melty goodness kind of cheesy.
Feeds a Crowd - Stuffed shells with ground beef makes for a great potluck recipe, but is also a winning family dinner. We love this recipe on a weeknight, since the leftovers reheat beautifully later on for a delicious lunch.
Key Ingredients for Cottage Cheese Stuffed Shells
- Pasta shells - The jumbo (but not giant) shells hold a good amount of cheese and are easily scooped out with a serving spoon.
- Ground beef - Our favorite budget protein. If you’re really feeling adventurous you could always do a meat blend with Italian sausage like we do with our Meatball Subs and this Italian Sausage Chili.
- Cheese - This stuffed shells recipe uses mozzarella, Parmesan, and cottage cheese for maximum flavor and melty texture.
- Spaghetti sauce - If you have some of our Homemade Spaghetti Sauce leftover, it is dynamite! Otherwise you'll probably want to save yourself the hassle and just use your favorite brand of jarred sauce for this recipe.
- Italian herbs and seasoning - garlic, oregano, parsley and fresh basil (plus salt and pepper) bring all the ingredients to life in this dish.
How to Make Stuffed Shells with Ground Beef
- Cook your pasta shells in boiling water according to directions on the package.
- Meanwhile, brown some ground beef in an oiled skillet, adding garlic for the last 30 seconds.
- Drain excess fat from the skillet and add spaghetti sauce to the ground beef.
- In a bowl mix together your stuffed shells cheese filling (cottage cheese, egg, Parmesan, mozzarella, parsley, garlic powder, oregano, basil, Kosher salt, pepper, and basil).
- In a greased 9x13” baking dish, spread out half of the tomato/beef mixture. Use a tablespoon (*or piping bag) to stuff the cooked pasta shells with cheese mixture and place them tightly together in the dish.
- Top the shells with remaining tomato sauce and cheese. Cover with foil and bake at 375°F for 20 minutes. Then remove foil and bake for another 10 minutes. Top with basil and serve.
Tips and FAQs
Cottage Cheese vs. Ricotta Cheese (*Strong Opinion Warning)
It is less authentically Italian, sure, but melted cottage cheese is better than ricotta. It has better flavor, better texture, it actually melts, and you’ll actually be able to tell where the cheese ends and the pasta begins.
How to Stuff Shells:
You can use a spoon or cookie scoop to stuff the shells, which takes 10-15 minutes. Or, you can put the filling in a large ziplock baggie or piping bag, snip the tip, and pipe the filing. I find this usually speeds up the process and is less messy!
Leftover Pasta Shells?
You might have more cooked pasta shells than can fit in a 9 x 13 pan. Place any extras in a smaller dish, and either freeze it, gift it, or save it for lunch leftovers!
You could even get adventurous with your extra shells and try breading and air frying them for a dippable appetizer a la this Fried Ravioli.
This Stuffed Shells with Ground Beef recipe makes enough that you’ll likely have leftovers. Luckily, these will keep very well. Store leftover baked shells in the fridge wrapped tightly with foil or covered with a lid. Reheat, uncovered, in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes.
Make Ahead Instructions:
The shells can be assembled up to 24 hours in advance and kept in the fridge. Just bake according to directions whenever you’re ready!
Cottage Cheese Stuffed Shells can also be frozen unbaked or baked. Either way, wrap the dish tightly with plastic wrap and freeze for up 3 months. Bake directly from frozen or thaw overnight in the fridge.
If baking from frozen, plan for an extra 30 minutes of cooking time. If you’re planning to go straight from freezer to oven, I always recommend using a foil pan, as glass can sometimes shatter with extreme temperature changes.
Keep the dish covered with foil until the last 15-20 minutes of baking time.
What Goes With Stuffed Shells with Ground Beef?
You're gonna want to serve these stuffed shells with some garlic bread so you have something to mop up sauce with.
For a veggie side, we'd recommend an Easy Garden Salad or our Creamy Caesar Salad. (Extra credit if you make your own Air Fryer Croutons.) If salad isn't your thing, try these Skillet Garlic Green Beans or a baking sheet full of Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower.
For a good beverage pairing, you'll be the star of the potluck with a pitcher of our White Wine Sangria.
Cottage Cheese Stuffed Shells with Ground Beef
- 12 oz jumbo shells (about 35 shells)
- 1 ½ Tablespoons olive oil (divided)
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 3 cloves garlic (minced)
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
- 3 cups spaghetti sauce
- 3 cups 24 oz cottage cheese
- 1 egg
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (divided)
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella (divided)
- 1 Tablespoon dried parsley
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¾ teaspoon Kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- About 10 basil leaves (sliced, divided)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the shells and cook for 12-14 minutes, or according to package directions. When the shells are al dente, drain well, then gently separate and toss with ½ Tablespoon olive oil. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the beef, breaking it up into large chunks spread across the pan. Cook, undisturbed, for 2-3 minutes, then flip. Continue to cook until all sides are browned, then add the garlic, sauteeing another 30 seconds. Turn off the heat, then drain off any excess fat.
- Season the beef to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the spaghetti sauce.
- In a bowl, mix together the cottage cheese, egg, ½ cup Parmesan cheese, ½ cup mozzarella cheese, parsley, garlic powder, oregano, Kosher salt, pepper, and half the basil.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and grease a 9 x 13 inch pan or large casserole dish.
- Spread half of the tomato beef mixture on the bottom of the pan. Working with one shell at a time, scoop rounded tablespoons of filling into the shell and arrange them tightly together in the pan.
- Top the shells with the remaining tomato sauce mixture, followed by the rest of the cheese.
- Cover the top loosely with foil and bake for 20 minutes, then uncover and bake an additional ten minutes. Top with remaining basil and serve.
More Italian Favorites
If cottage cheese stuffed shells sound good, be sure to check out some of our other Italian-inspired favorite recipes like Johnny Marzetti, Cheesy Company Casserole, One Pot Lasagna Soup, or our Ultimate Guide to Meatballs.