3 Cheese Stuffed Shells – a favorite freezer meal!
Today is our first day back at homeschooling and I’m pretty excited. We have some neat new things we are doing this year, including running a pet shop business on paper. Today, Katy picked out her pet shop name and designed her logo. Tomorrow, she’ll go over an inventory list (along with prices) and decide how to spend her starting budget. This is pretty much an “extra” activity for us because it is above and beyond her normal math curriculum but I’m excited about giving her lessons in math that are so applicable in real life. Later this week she will even learn how to write checks, keep a ledger of debits and credits, and pay taxes. That latter part will also help her understand the mindset of our founding fathers as we delve into early American history and their views on taxes.
I said I would bring you Brady’s story today but as I’m in a bit of a hurry to get some work done, I am going to ask for an extension on that and just head right into the recipe with ya. Eventually, I’ll get to it, honest!
This is a dish I made all the time when we first got married because I could make the filled shells ahead of time and then just get out whatever we needed based on how hungry we were, if we had company, etc. It’s one of Ricky’s favorites but for some reason I guess I got busy with other dishes and forgot about this one a while. As a result, we haven’t had it in years until I made it yesterday. My son didn’t even remember ever having it but my cheese loving husband sure was happy to see an old favorite again!
This recipe makes about 35-40 cheese filled shells for your freezer, depending on how many come in your box. This is enough for 3-4 meals for us. Either way, there is enough cheese to generously fill them all and oh my goodness, they are so good once they are baked in a rich marinara sauce. But don’t go thinking you have to disrupt the ease of the meal by making your marinara from scratch (unless you just want to). I’ve found that the $1.00 cans of spaghetti sauce (Hunt’s or Del Monte brand where I live) are the perfect size for this.
You’ll need: Jumbo shells, eggs, mozzarella, ricotta (or cottage cheese)*, parmesan, oregano, salt, and pepper.
*Re: Ricotta or Cottage Cheese – I just get whichever one is cheapest whenever I buy for this.
To start with, bring a big pot of water to a boil and then cook your shells for half the full time recommended on the box. For these, that means 6 minutes. You want them slightly undercooked so that they won’t get mooshy later on.
Take all other ingredients and place in a large bowl. Stir this up until really well blended and fully combined. Or until it looks like mashed potato salad.
After your shells are cooked, drain them in a colander and run cold water over them to stop the cooking process. Drain again.
To stuff each shell, Place it in your hand and squeeze it open like an old fashioned change purse. Put a good spoonful of filling inside (I use a serving spoon) and then let it close back up again.
Repeat this until all shells are finished, placing them onto a greased or waxed paper lined baking sheet after filling.
Place this baking sheet in the freezer, uncovered, for about an hour, or until the shells are frozen and hard again. This will keep them from sticking together when you put them in bags for longer term freezing.
Place frozen shells in gallon zipper seal freezer bags and return to the freezer until you need them.
FAQ: How Many Does This Serve?
As I said before, this recipe makes about 35-40 cheese stuffed shells. People often ask me “How many does this recipe serve?” and my immediate mental response is “How hungry are you?“. Because, truthfully, I cannot tell you how many a recipe will serve in your family. There are too many variables.
- How hungry are you?
- Are you serving sides with it?
- What are the ages of your children? A sixteen year old boy will easily eat as much as two ten year olds in many cases (I have proof).
- What is a serving size to you? For example, in a casserole some would consider a 2×2 inch square to be a serving size, for others it may be a 4×4 inch square. This is going to make a huge difference when it comes to how many “servings” you get out of a dish. Institutions (schools, cafeterias, frozen dinner companies, etc) can tell you exactly how many servings because they measure them out with measured schools (1/2 cup, 1 cup, etc) or by weight. That’s just not how meals work at home where you set a dish the table and serve it up family style.
After you cook for your family a while you should be able to look at a 9×13 or an 8×8 casserole dish, think about it just a moment, and know how far that dish of food will go for y’all, taking into account if you are serving anything along with it.
So how many servings is this? Well, that depends on you. You may plan two shells per person with sides. You may plan five or six shells per person with no sides. If you’re eating it for lunch, you may want half as much as you would for supper. It’s just a matter of looking at it and taking a few seconds to think about it rather than relying on a recipe to say “10 servings” or “serves 4” because honestly, and here is a little inside secret, those numbers are just someone else’s best guess.
Seriously y’all, people make that up. We have to until we develop the ability to see into the future and calculate how every meal is going to be served in someone else’s home. And honestly, if I was going to wish for a super power it would not be the ability to accurately discern how many servings a dish/pan/pot of food contained. I think I’d go more with the flying thing (oldie but a goodie) or maybe a speed burst trick that would allow me to clean my entire house in under five minutes and then BOOM us to Disney World and back by supper.
However, in my published cookbooks I am required to give serving amounts so it goes like this: How many servings are there in a cake baked in a 9×13 pan. Okay, if I do four cuts going down the long side and three cuts going down the short side, that is twelve pieces so it will give 12 servings. Does that mean I personally get 12 servings out of that cake at my house? Of course not because that is not how I cut it.
I’ll ask my husband “Do you want a big piece or a little piece?” and he’ll say a big piece so I’ll cut him a big one. My father in law may want a big piece, my daughter a smaller one, and my son a big piece. Before you know it, half of my cake is gone and it was just four pieces where there “should” have been six. Serving amounts are entirely relative to the meal, the situation (anyone skip lunch before sitting down to this supper?), and the people eating.
My best advice is to look at the size of the dish the meal is being or cooked in so you know the volume of food being produced and can then compare that to your family’s size and eating habits. I have a family of four with two adults, one teenage boy, and one tween girl so most of my recipes serve four, sometimes with enough left over for a lunch or two, which just means less work for me the following day.
When ready to bake, place a little bit of marinara sauce in the bottom of a baking dish.
Top with however many frozen shells you want to bake.
Spoon more sauce over the top. Cover this with a lid or foil and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, or until heated through and bubbly.
Enjoy your cheese stuffed pasta!
- 12 ounce box Jumbo Pasta Shells
- 32 ounces cottage cheese
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella
- 3/4 cup grated parmesan or whatever kind of parmesan you can easily acquire
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- For baking later : 28 ounce can marinara (spaghetti) sauce for each time you want to serve these
- Cook shells according to box directions for 1/2 of the recommended time. Drain in a colander and run cold water over them to stop the cooking process. Drain again.
- In large mixing bowl, place all other ingredients and stir until well blended.
- Take shells, one at a time, and stuff with a large spoonful of cheese. See photos in post for demonstration of how I do this.
- Place stuffed shells on a greased or wax paper lined baking sheet. Once all shells are stuffed, place sheet in freezer for about an hour, or until shells are frozen hard. Remove shells and put them in zipper seal freezer bags and return to freezer for longer term storage.
To bake: Spoon 1/2 of a jar or can of marinara sauce into bottom of baking dish. Top with desired amount of shells. Spoon more sauce over the top of shells. Cover this with foil and bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until shells are heated through and sauce is bubbly.
Back when I first started Southernplate in 2008, before I my first book with Harper Collins and my second book with Workman, I created a little self published cookbook and sold it on my site. My mother and I shipped them out and we sold a few thousand of those! It is such a treat for me to see someone holding one of those books at my book signings and events. I immediately think “WOW! You’ve put up with me for a long time!” If you have one of those books, this recipe is on page 38.
“As much as I converse with sages and heroes, they have very little of my love and admiration. I long for rural and domestic scene, for the warbling of birds and the prattling of my children.”