pesto stuffed shells

$8.51 recipe / $1.42 serving

It should be obvious by now that I love to stuff things (Pepperoni Stuffed Chicken, Cranberry Walnut Stuffed Pork Loin, Stuffed Poblano Peppers). Well, here I go again, stuffing some more filling into what would otherwise be a very boring bit of food. Instead of doing the regular old cheese stuffed jumbo shell pasta, I decided to give it a little kick with some pesto. I mixed basil pesto into the cheese filling which added TONS of bright flavor. I had some fresh spinach lying around so I decided to roughly chop some and throw it into the mix as well. You can leave out the spinach or add more if you’d like; it is not a major player here, I just like to add more veggies whenever I can. Also, I have been making my own marinara lately but I had a jar of store bought sitting up in my cupboard using up space so I decided to use that this time instead.

I set a serving size at 3 shells per person because I made a big green salad and garlic bread to go along as sides (recipes later this week). If you are eating the shells alone you may want four… or five if you are a big muscular man with a monsterous appetite. I was able to fill 22 shells with the amount of pesto cheese mix I made, which left me with more than a few left over shells. Even though you probably won’t end up using all of your cooked shells, it is a good idea to boil all of them in case some rip or tear in the process. Just consider them “back up” shells.

Pesto Stuffed Shells

Pesto Stuffed Shells

5.0 from 4 reviews
pesto stuffed shells
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Total Cost: $8.51
Cost Per Serving: $1.42
Serves: 7 (3 ea.)
  • 12 oz. jumbo shell pasta $1.24
  • 15 oz. part skim ricotta $1.83
  • 4 oz. (1 cup) shredded mozzarella $0.98
  • ½ cup basil pesto $1.96
  • 1 large egg $0.15
  • 2 cups fresh spinach (optional) $0.33
  • 1 Tbsp cooking oil $0.04
  • 3 cups (1 jar) pasta sauce $1.98
  1. In a bowl, mix together the ricotta, mozzarella, pesto and the egg (the egg keeps the filling from getting too runny when cooked). Roughly chop the spinach and stir it into the cheese mixture. Refrigerate the filling until you are ready to use it.
  2. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box (boil for 12 min.). I added 1 Tbsp of cooking oil to the boiling water to keep the shells from sticking to each and the pot. You will still need to gently stir a few times during cooking. Be careful not to over cook the pasta or else it will rip easily and be too mushy after cooking with the filling and sauce. Drain the pasta and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process. Let the pasta drain.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. The shells roll up tight (see photo below) when they are cooked so use the fingers on one hand to hold them open as you spoon about 3 Tbsp of pesto cheese mix into the center of each. There should be enough pesto cheese mix to fill the shell so that it stays open just slightly (the edges should be about ½ inch apart). Fill as many shells as you can with the cheese mix.
  4. Spread one cup of pasta sauce in the bottom of a glass baking dish. I used a 9.5×14 inch dish because that was all that I had available at the time but it was too big for 22 shells. You want to pack them in tightly in a single layer. If you space them too far apart, they will dry out during the cooking process. Place all of the shells in the baking dish as close together as possible and pour the remaining 2 cups of sauce over top. Bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees or until the sauce is bubbling up around the edges.

pesto stuffed shellsStuffed shells prior to baking

Step By Step Photos

basil pestoI would make fresh pesto if I had a big basil plant but I don’t so I buy this pesto at the store. The price is very reasonable in my area and it only took about half a jar for this recipe.

chopped spinachI added this roughly chopped spinach because I like to hide vegetables everywhere I can!

pesto cheese fillingHere is the finished pesto cheese filling (ricotta, mozzarella, pesto, spinach and an egg).

cooked shellsAfter cooking the jumbo shell pasta, they will coil up pretty tightly so you will need to use one hand to hold each one open as you fill it with a spoonful of pesto cheese mix with the other. It’s easier than it sounds but a little messy.

stuffed shellsHere are some stuffed shells before cooking. If you over fill one (like the one in front) you can scoop a little out to fill another… or you can just leave it and have fewer but fatter shells.

uncooked stuffed shellsPack the shells into a baking dish with sauce underneath and on top. Bake for 30 minutes.

stuffed shells plated upServe with garlic bread, a big salad and maybe a glass of wine!

NOTE: Leftover pesto should not be wasted… it’s too precious. Pesto freezes really well so pour it into a freezer bag, label it and save it for a rainy day (maybe make some Pesto Chicken with it later!).

This recipe is pretty cheese and I DID tell myself that I was going to watch my saturated fat intake so here are a couple of alterations that you can do to make this dish a little healthier. First, use part-skim ricotta, not whole. Yes, whole tastes better but once the pesto is in there, you won’t notice. Use 2% mozzarella for the same reason. Lastly, you can add double the spinach which will add texture, fiber, nutrients and bulk up the cheese mix allowing you to fill more shells. As with any dish that is rich or cheesy, watching your portion size goes a LONG way so pack your portions out ahead of time!


  1. Hetal Patel says:

    Can the egg be substituted with anything else?

    • Not in this one, unfortunately. You really need that egg to solidify the filling so that it doesn’t ooze all over.

  2. I made this last night to take to a friend with a new baby and for my family, and it was a big hit! I added 12 oz of frozen chopped spinach to the filling mixture instead of using fresh, then added some parmesan cheese as well. With the extra spinach, it could have used some salt, but I didn’t add that. As some others did, I also used about half the amount of pesto. Overall, it was a great success!

  3. Anna says:

    Made these last night and my husband loved them! I did too-which is rare because frequently I’m too tired after making a meal to want to eat! Very easy to make, I thought. I didn’t know if I should cover them with foil while I baked them, so I did, to be on the safe side. It turned out great. Budget Bytes is becoming my GO-TO site when I start my weekly menu planning.

  4. Alisa says:

    God bless you for posting this :) These are seriously the BEST stuffed shells I’ve ever had! I use the Classico brand basil pesto, part-skim ricotta and part-skim mozzarella, Ronzoni jumbo shells and Ragu “tomato, garlic & onion” pasta sauce. I use a whole 6 oz. bag of fresh baby spinach and cut up the leaves with my kitchen scissors so that I get about 2 cups chopped fresh spinach. I also add a 1/2 cup of grated romano cheese to the filling mixture. They are just so incredibly delicious! This will forever be my go-to recipe for stuffed shells :) I think it would make awesome lasagna too but I haven’t tried that.

    • Alisa says:

      I forgot to mention that I omit the mozzarella from the filling and only use grated mozzarella on top of the shells, to protect them from drying out during baking. I find that if you put mozzarella cheese in the filling for stuffed shells or lasagna that it makes the filling too runny. I scaled back the pesto to only 1/3 cup instead of a half cup, since it is very flavorful and I felt a half cup was too much. These always turn out fantastic! :)

  5. Gracie says:

    My husband & I both found the basil to be a bit strong so I wld def cut back a bit. And that was with adding the 2 C spinach. I might add another C of spinach as well. It was good just a little strong with basil. :)

  6. Marie says:

    LOVE this recipe! I have made it a few times now and it is delicious. I do cut the basil pesto in half because although I love it, it is a little strong for those who do not. YUM!

  7. Taryn says:

    Made this for dinner tonight after finding it on Pinterest while looking for some inspiration. I paired it with roasted asparagus and rotisserie chicken…..Delish! Thank you for a wonderful recipe!

  8. BrittanyF says:

    Yum!! My family of 5 enjoyed these SOOO much. Thanks for a great recipe! We added a little bit of cottage cheese to the mixture, and used homemade spinach/basil pesto. Will add to our “regular” menu! Thanks!!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Worked out so well, although the process of putting the mix in the shells was a bit awkward (but I will get better at it), slash I may or may not have eaten half a dish to myself!!

  10. CollegeFriend says:

    Wow! These were so easy and fast! Not to mention yummy!!

  11. If basil pesto isn’t available in your area, you can try to make this fresh parsley pesto. I like it just almost as much, it’s super quick, and very inexpensive!

  12. Anonymous says:

    For those of us who don’t have cheap basil pesto at the store, how do you make it from scratch on a college student budget?

  13. about to dig into these! just waiting for parmesan knots to finish. thanks for the awesome recipe! :)

  14. Making this tonight…Cheese is ridiculous in New York. Still cheaper than going out though.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Ah i’ve never seen shells this size, and even if i found some I’d never be able to get gluten free ones. ah this looks so yummy though!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Oh, and I also used the ziploc bag trick…I do that with manacotti, too. Soooo easy! I highly recommended it versus spooning the mixture in.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Just made this tonight. It was amazing! I’ve made shells multiple times before, but the pesto basil really made the dish! I did not use spinach, but stuck to the recipe every other way. Every plate was clean within minutes. Definitely a keeper!

  18. I have to make this! Looks great and love all the reviews this has received so I know we will all love it! Thanks for posting!

  19. Anonymous says:

    I have made this recipe so many times. I use it when we are having guests over. It is always a big hit. Thanks!

  20. Anonymous says:

    delicious! my boyfriend at about half the pan ( :/ ) adding spinach is a great idea. i want these everyday

  21. Put your cheese mixture into a Ziploc bag, cut the off one of the edges, and squeeze as a pastry chef would to ice a cake. Much less mess.

  22. Holly says:

    This was amazing! I’m not a fan of ricotta so I just used cottage cheese and it turned out so yummy. I can’t believe how simple this was, thank you so much!

  23. Anonymous says:

    great dish! Accidentally put cup of pesto in recipe instead of a half, but it still turned out great!

  24. Andrea says:

    Absolutely amazing! First time using pesto and definitely not the last!

  25. Meredith says:

    I found this recipe via Pinterest and just finished eating it! So delicious. I had to cook my shells about 14-15 minutes, and they didn’t break when I was filling them. I added some garlic and Italian seasonings to the filling, but totally forgot that I had olive oil and garlic pasta sauce, so they were pretty garlicky! They were fantastic! Will make again- thank you so much :-)

  26. I came across through Pinterest and so glad I did!
    Just made this for dinner to my picky daughter and boyfriend who both loved it! I’m a beginner cook so I really appreciate all your pics as it makes it so easy to follow. Can’t wait to try more of your recipes…tomorrow Coconut Chicken w/sweet chili sauce!

  27. Found this on Pinterest a couple weeks ago and been dying to try this- and just made it tonight. So delicious and easy!! I was a little worried when I first poured the shells into the strainer because they looked a little floppy, but running cold water over them made them curl up and look right. Yay! Thanks for the awesome recipe!

  28. Found this from digging around on Pinterest. Decided I had to make it. I actually spent $13.08 on it, which came out to $0.72 per shell(I managed to make 18) w/ approximately 3 shells per serving which equals $2.18 per serving. Slightly off, but close enough, probably b/c this was created a year ago and there’s been some inflation of grocery prices.

    Break down:
    Jumbo Shells = $2.59
    Pasta Sauce= $2.99
    Ricotta= $1.99
    Mozzarella- $2.00
    Basil Pesto= $2.99
    Egg = $0.15(already had in the fridge so I just used this recipe’s estimated cost)
    Spinach= $0.33 (I already had some in the freezer, although frozen, I used this recipe’s estimated cost)
    Oil= $0.04(already had on hand, so I used the estimated cost)
    For a total of $13.08. I also used a coupon for the pasta sauce since I was also buying alfredo and it was a buy 2 coupon, and I used my Kroger savings card for 2/$4.00 on the mozzarella since I had to buy another package for a recipe for thanksgiving.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Also found through pinterest – am going to try this tomorrow – always love something with pesto – love your pics too.

  30. Anonymous says:

    I found your blog threw pinterest. I must say I’m glad I did. These shells were a big hit. Thanks so much for giving me budget friendly foods.

  31. Mmm so yummy looking. Perfect comfort food. (What’s more comforting than pasta and cheese?) Thanks!

  32. When I first came upon this recipe, it looked great, but I was afraid it would be too difficult for me. I was wrong! I followed the directions and the outcome was fabulous – not to mention my kids loved them and believe me, they are picky eaters!

  33. lauren says:

    made this for dinner tonight, it was incredibly easy and delicious! can’t wait to try more of your recipes, thank you!

  34. Anonymous says:

    Made this the other night, it is a GREAT recipe. All together with garlic bread it came out at about 15$ at wal-mart.

  35. Anonymous says:

    This is awesome! But, just so you know, it’s kind of a wives tale that oil prevents pasta from sticking- oil and water don’t mix, ever! A tablespoon of vineger instead works wonders.

  36. This looks delicious. I would love for you to link it to my blog hop!

  37. We tried this tonight and it was an instant hit. Love it!!!!

  38. Anonymous says:

    i LOVED this! i worked all day today and came home and made this in less than 30 minutes. it was easy AND delicious. it totally made my night! i’ll definitely be saving this recipe! thanks!

  39. this was so delicious! i cut out the mozzarella (so it’s a bit more figure friendly) and added a bit more spinach and pesto in its place. i also sprinkled some parmesan cheese on the bottom and top layers of sauce. i tossed my left-over shells and filling with some sauce and popped it in the freezer – gotta love squeezing two different dishes out of one recipe. your recipes are such a life saver and are always so tasty!

  40. Vanessa Sabri says:

    Just made them! About to eat, thanks for the wonderful website!

  41. I was just wondering if there was a good substitute for ricotta as I do not enjoy the flavor of ricotta but I do like eating this kind of stuff.

  42. These are so yummy! I undercooked the first batch and they were runny, but i adjusted my oven and they’re the perfect texture. I’ll be making these the next time people come over :)

  43. This was a EXCELLENT DISH and affordable to boot! A++++

  44. Made this last night without the spinach and it was great! Thanks for the recipe!

  45. Anonymous says:

    I made this last night, but I added sausage to the mixture and topped it with a little extra mozzarella. It was so good, I will definitely make this again!

  46. What a treasure of a blog! I like to post step-by-step photos, because I hope to encourage fearful folks to cook. You are so right, in that it’s easy and it’s a lot cheaper. I also think it’s a lot of fun! As for this recipe, you answered my need to make a recipe for a free pasta sauce I was sent, to sample (and recommend, of course). I have every single ingredient and I cannot wait to go home and make this dish. I really like how you break down the cost of each dish. Having been a single mom for 12 years, I learned how to budget cook to survive. Now that I’m married, I indulge in fancier ingredients once in a while– but I’m still a Basics Kinda Gal.
    Once again, great blog! I’m going to recommend it on my own blog roll.

  47. looks terrific and vegetarian to boot. Love the addition of spinach. Thank you for posting!

  48. Tasty. I just had spaghetti squash and meat sauce over the weekend as I was craving pasta and red sauce. This looks great!

  49. Definitely a stunning dish! Love it!

  50. I must try this delicious-looking stuffed pasta! Excellent click!

  51. Beautiful stuffed shells! I love the addition of pesto to the cheese filling.

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