Jump to RecipeJump to VideoLeave a ReviewPin Recipe

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. I may earn a small commission for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website.

Taco stuffed shells are a fun mash-up of classic stuffed shells and Mexican-inspired tacos. Each jumbo pasta shell boasts a ground beef taco meat filling, plenty of cheese, and zesty salsa. Finish off the cozy casserole with your favorite taco toppings like sour cream, sliced olives, red onions, fresh cilantro, guacamole, and more. It’s a make-ahead, family-friendly meal that everyone at the table will love!

Overhead image of a serving spoon in a dish of taco stuffed shells
Table of Contents
  1. Taco Stuffed Shells with Ricotta
  2. What are stuffed shells?
  3. Ingredients
  4. How to Make Taco Stuffed Shells
  5. Toppings
  6. Serving Suggestions
  7. Preparation and Storage
  8. Recipe Variations
  9. tips for the best taco stuffed shells recipe
  10. Taco Stuffed Shells Recipe

Taco Stuffed Shells with Ricotta

Does it get any cozier than a pan of stuffed pasta shells full of ricotta and ground beef, seasoned with Mexican spices, smothered in a salsa meat sauce, and finished with extra cheese? From kids to grandparents, here’s why everyone loves this recipe:

  • The ricotta stuffed shells can be assembled in advance and frozen or refrigerated until you’re ready to bake them. Talk about convenient!
  • This recipe yields a large batch to serve 8so it’s perfect for entertaining. If you’re feeding a smaller family, you can divide the stuffed shells between two smaller 8-inch baking dishes and freeze one for later. You get two meals with one effort. Love that!
  • The taco seasoning adds tons of flavor to the ricotta and ground beef filling. No boring stuffed shells here!
Cooking taco meat in a skillet

What are stuffed shells?

Traditional stuffed shells are an Italian-inspired dish that includes Jumbo Shells pasta, which are stuffed with a variety of ingredients and baked with sauce and cheese in a casserole dish. Beef and ricotta is a classic stuffed shells filling, but you might also find spinach and cheese stuffed shellschicken stuffed shells with spinach and Alfredo, or sausage and cheese stuffed shells. Here, we’re mixing it up even more and giving the pasta a Mexican-inspired filling with taco meat, Mexican blend cheese, and salsa!

Process shot showing how to stuff pasta shells

Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a pan of taco stuffed shells. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Jumbo pasta shells: I always cook the entire 12-ounce box, but you likely won’t need all of them. It just depends on how full you stuff each shell, and how tightly you pack them in the dish. Some shells tend to break or rip in the cooking process, so it’s nice to have extras.
  • Ground beef: adds hearty texture and great flavor to both the ricotta filling and the salsa. You can substitute with ground turkey or ground chicken, too.
  • Onion: for savory flavor in the taco filling.
  • Taco seasoning: a convenient packet of taco seasoning mix gives the meat its classic Mexican flavor. You’ll also need the water called for on your seasoning packet. If using a homemade seasoning blend, then you probably won’t need any water (because homemade blends don’t include thickening agents).
  • Mexican blend cheese: these blends typically include a flavorful and convenient combination of Monterey Jack cheese, cheddar cheese, asadero cheese, and queso quesadilla cheese. You can substitute with plain grated cheddar or sharp cheddar if you prefer.
  • Ricotta cheese: gives the filling that rich, creamy texture. If you prefer, you can substitute with cottage cheese, but see my notes below for more details on that change.
  • Egg: gives the filling structure so that it doesn’t ooze out of the shells.
  • Salsa: this takes the place of the marinara sauce that you would typically find in an Italian stuffed shells recipe. I prefer a big jar of “thick and chunky” salsa. You don’t want to use a thinner “restaurant style” salsa, which will add too much watery liquid to the dish.
Process shot showing how to make taco stuffed shells

How to Make Taco Stuffed Shells

While these stuffed pasta shells require a few steps for assembly, I can assure you that they are well worth the few extra minutes in the kitchen. Plus, they’re very easy — if you can brown ground beef and cook some pasta, you can prepare this dish. It will soon become a family favorite!

  1. Cook pasta shells in salted boiling water according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold water.
  2. Brown the ground beef and onion in a skillet; drain off the fat. Add the taco seasoning and water, then simmer until thickened.
  3. Stir together the ricotta filling.
  4. Mix together the meat and salsa sauce.
  5. Stuff shells with ricotta and meat mixture.
  6. Arrange the stuffed shells in a 13 x 9-inch dish.
  7. Spoon meat sauce over top.
  8. Sprinkle with cheese.
  9. Cover the dish with foil and bake in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes.
  10. Remove the cover and bake for 10 more minutes, until the cheese is melted the filling is hot.
Overhead shot of taco stuffed shells on a dinner table

Toppings

Here are some great ways to garnish your taco stuffed shells, adding even more flavor to the simple dish:

Square overhead image of a pan of taco stuffed shells

Serving Suggestions

On the side, pair the Mexican stuffed shells with a simple green salad, tortilla chips and salsa, pico de galloguacamole, corn, ranch-style beans, refried beans, seasoned black beans, or corn and black bean salad.

Front shot of a pan of taco stuffed shells on a dinner table

How many Stuffed Pasta Shells Per Person?

I generally assume about 2-3 shells per person. Larger appetites might like 4, while smaller eaters may prefer 2. This recipe yields about 20-22 stuffed shells with a hearty meat sauce, and it typically feeds about 6-8 people.

Preparation and Storage

Leftover baked stuffed pasta shells will last in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

How to Reheat

Let the dish sit on the counter and come to room temperature for about 1 hour before reheating. Cover the dish with foil and reheat in a 350°F oven just until warmed through (about 20-30 minutes). You can also reheat individual portions in the microwave for about 1 minute.

How to Freeze

Taco stuffed shells is the ultimate prep-ahead freezer meal! If you would like to make the casserole in advance, simply assemble the dish (but do not bake). Cover the dish with foil and either refrigerate for up to 24 hours; or, if freezing, cover tightly with plastic wrap, then foil. Keep in freezer for up to 3 months.

How to Cook Frozen Stuffed Shells

When ready to bake, you can either thaw the stuffed shells in the fridge overnight (and bake according to the recipe instructions); or you can bake the stuffed shells directly from the freezer at 350°F for about 60-70 minutes (or until heated through). Don’t forget to remove the foil during the final 10 minutes of baking to allow the cheese to brown on top!

Close overhead image of a serving spoon in a dish of taco stuffed shells

Recipe Variations

  • This recipe yields a large batch to serve 8, so it’s perfect for entertaining. If you’re feeding a smaller family, you can divide the stuffed shells between two smaller 8-inch baking dishes and freeze one for later.
  • Use about 1 lb. of ground sausage, ground turkey, or ground chicken instead of the ground beef.
  • To make these amazing stuffed shells without ricotta, you can substitute with cottage cheese instead. If using cottage cheese, I recommend straining off some of the liquid first or using a whipped cottage cheese so that you don’t end up with a watery filling.
  • Any shredded cheese will work. I use a Mexican blend, but cheddar cheese, Monterey Jack, or Pepper Jack cheese will all be great.
  • Add cooked spinach to the filling. Just make sure that you squeeze the spinach very dry before stirring it into the ricotta mixture — otherwise it will water-down the dish.
Square overhead shot of taco stuffed shells in a white baking dish

tips for the best taco stuffed shells recipe

  • Boil the pasta in well-salted water. This is your only opportunity to season the pasta itself, so don’t be shy with the salt!
  • Cook the pasta shells just until barely al dente, since they will continue to cook in the oven. You don’t want to end up with overdone, mushy pasta!
  • Use a “thick and chunky” style salsa. Thinner “restaurant style” salsas will be too watery and thin for this recipe.
  • Garnish the shells with all of your favorite taco toppings for even more delicious flavor.
Overhead image of a pan of taco stuffed shells
Square overhead image of a pan of taco stuffed shells

Taco Stuffed Shells

Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 40 minutes
Total: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings 8 people
Calories 462 kcal
Taco stuffed shells are a fun mash-up of classic stuffed shells and Mexican-inspired tacos, with ground beef, cheese, salsa, and pasta!

Ingredients
  

  • 1 (12 ounce) box Jumbo pasta shells
  • 1 lb. ground beef (you can substitute with ground turkey or ground chicken)
  • ½ of a large onion, chopped
  • 1 (1 ounce) packet dry taco seasoning mix
  • cup water (or the amount called for on your taco seasoning packet)
  • 2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese, divided (you can substitute with shredded cheddar or cheddar Jack cheese)
  • 1 (15 ounce) container ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 (24 ounce) jar thick and chunky salsa (about 2 ⅔ cups)
  • Optional garnish: chopped fresh parsley or cilantro; sour cream; sliced green onion or diced red onion; sliced olives; diced avocado

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Cook pasta shells in a large pot of salted boiling water according to package instructions. Drain; rinse under cold water.
  • Meanwhile, brown ground beef and onion in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Drain off fat; stir in water and taco seasoning mix. Bring to a simmer, and then cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens, about 3-4 minutes.
  • Combine 1 ½ cups of the shredded Mexican blend cheese, all of the ricotta cheese, the egg, and half of the beef mixture in a large bowl. Set aside.
  • Spread ¾ cup of the salsa in the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. In a bowl, stir together the remaining salsa and the remaining half of the beef mixture. Set aside.
  • Fill the cooked, cooled pasta shells with the ricotta mixture. Arrange the shells in the baking dish.
  • Top the shells with the salsa mixture. Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup of Mexican cheese blend over top.
  • Cover the dish with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and bake for 10 more minutes. Garnish with optional toppings, and serve!

Notes

  • Boil the pasta in well-salted water. This is your only opportunity to season the pasta itself, so don’t be shy with the salt!
  • Cook the pasta shells just until barely al dente, since they will continue to cook in the oven. You don’t want to end up with overdone, mushy pasta!
  • Use a “thick and chunky” style salsa. Thinner “restaurant style” salsas will be too watery and thin for this recipe.
  • Garnish the shells with all of your favorite taco toppings for even more delicious flavor.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/8 of the recipeCalories: 462kcalCarbohydrates: 32gProtein: 29gFat: 25gSaturated Fat: 13gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 113mgSodium: 1107mgPotassium: 547mgFiber: 3gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 1192IUVitamin C: 4mgCalcium: 338mgIron: 3mg
Keyword: taco stuffed shells
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American, Mexican
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

Read More

Square overhead shot of hands serving a chicken pot pie recipe with biscuits
Overhead image of a bowl of chili mac on a dinner table with cornbread
Hands serving a platter of sheet pan sausage and potatoes

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.