This Stuffed Shells Without Ricotta recipe is packed with flavor and a velvety-smooth filling. They’re made skinnier by using part-skim mozzarella and fat-free cottage cheese instead of ricotta!

This recipe serves six and costs about $13.32 to make, that’s just $2.22 per serving.

I love whipping up Italian favorites like New York Style Pizza, Sausage and Peppers Pasta, Baked Three Cheese Manicotti, Three Cheese Calzones, and Chicken and Gnocchi Soup.

A pan full of stuffed shells and meat sauce.

This past weekend I made this Stuffed Shells recipe without ricotta. I wanted to make one of my favorite Italian dishes but make it skinnier to accommodate the health goals I set for this year.

Let me tell you; this skinnier stuffed shells recipe is delicious! The filling is light, creamy, and it almost melts in your mouth. The entire family LOVED this recipe, and the best thing is you can make these up to 2 days ahead of time!

If you love this recipe, then you’ll want to check out my Skinnier Lasagna Roll-Ups with Mushrooms and Spinach, too! 

Ingredients and Cost

Recipe cost: $13.32

Per Serving Cost: $2.22

NOTE: The recipe prices are calculated by using grocery store websites. The actual cost of the stuffed shells without ricotta recipe will vary depending on what ingredients you already have.

  • 8 ounces lean ground beef – $1.55
  • 24-ounce jar pasta sauce – $1.77
  • 12-ounce box jumbo pasta shells – $2.18
  • 10 saltines – $0.10
  • 2 cups fat-free cottage cheese – $2.28
  • 2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese – $1.30
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese – $0.99
  • 2 Tablespoons basil – $1.98
  • 2 large garlic cloves – $0.10
All of the ingredients needed to make this stuffed shells recipe without ricotta cheese.


  1. Boil shells and let them dry on a towel-lined cookie sheet. Prepare the filling.
  2. Place filling in a plastic bag. Snip off the corner and fill each shell with 2 tablespoons of filling.
  3.  Place half of the meat sauce on the bottom of the pan.
  4. Nestle in the shells.
  5. Cover with remaining meat sauce.
  6. Bake for 35 minutes, then top with 1/2 cup of Mozzarella cheese. Bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until the cheese has melted.
  7. Garnish and serve!

See a complete recipe video in the recipe card below!

A picture collage of how to amen Stuffed Shells Without Ricotta.

Recipe Variations

  • Instead of lean ground beef, you can use ground Italian sausage.
  • If you don’t have fresh basil, then you can use 2 teaspoons of dried basil in the filling.
  • This stuffed shells without ricotta recipe can easily be adapted for manicotti.

Storage Tips

MAKE AHEAD: Once shells are topped with the sauce, they can be refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap for up to 2 days. To finish: remove the plastic wrap, cover with foil, and bake until bubbling, 40 to 45 minutes. Proceed with the recipe.

SERVE: You can keep these at room temperature for up to 2 hours before they will need to be refrigerated.

STORE: Keep leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

FREEZE: To freeze the stuffed shells, assemble the shells but instead of baking the shells, cover the container tightly with plastic wrap and then again with tin foil. To save yourself a little time on the night of pulling out these stuffed shells from your freezer, be sure to make yourself a note on the tin foil to remind you of the directions. That way, you do not have to go searching for the recipe. It will be right there for you!

Pro Tip

Before freezing, make the following note on the foil: “Stuffed Shells: remove plastic, cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake until bubbly.” Easy peasy!

These will stay fresh in the freezer for up to 3 months. One last tip for you when recovering your stuffed shells, I highly recommend spraying the foil first as the cheese may stick if it touches the foil.

2 white plates of stuffed shells.

Recipe Tools 

  • pasta pot  – This one is great because you can drain the pasta in the pot.
  • large skillet
  • wooden spoon – This spoon is perfect for getting into the curved edges of the skillet. 
  • 9×13-inch pan – This one had a lid that comes with it which makes storing leftovers super easy!
  • food processor – I’ve had a few food processors over the years, and this one is the best. It’s powerful, quality, and a real workhorse in my kitchen. 

Recipe FAQ’s

What’s the difference between manicotti and stuffed shells?

Manicotti and stuffed shells are very similar. Both kinds of pasta are stuffed, but the difference is in the particulars of how each is made.
Manicotti is made with large tubes to hold the delicious stuffing. Manicotti is typically about 4 inches long and 1 inch in diameter.
Some people even use lasagna noodles to wrap around the stuffing. On the other hand, stuffed shells are made with, you guessed it, shells!
The stuffing in the jumbo shells is about the amount equal to the size of an egg. Both manicotti and stuffed shells are topped with a sauce after the insides have been filled with the stuffing.

Do stuffed shells freeze well?

Yes! Freezing stuffed shells is the best! It is such a delicious meal I always try to make an extra batch at the same time to have an easy meal on hand for a busy night another time. It’s like two for the price of one. One night of prep work for two nights of meals.

What goes with stuffed shells?

I like to serve this Italian Salad and this One-Hour French Bread for a complete meal. Top it off with some Cannoli and I am in Heaven!

Close up picture of stuffed shells with meat sauce on a plate.

More Pasta Main Dish Recipes

A spoon scooping a stuffed shell.
4.83 from 86 votes

Skinnier Stuffed Shells Recipe

Author Jillian
Recipe Cost $ $13.32
Serving Cost $ $2.22
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes
6 people
This Stuffed Shells recipe without ricotta is packed with flavor and a velvety-smooth filling.


  • pasta pot
  • large skillet
  • wooden spoon
  • 9×13-inch pan
  • food processor



  • 8 ounces lean ground beef
  • 1 24-ounce jar pasta sauce


  • 1 12-ounce box jumbo pasta shells
  • 10 saltines broken into pieces
  • 2 cups fat-free cottage cheese
  • 2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese divided
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese plus more for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil plus more for garnish
  • 2 large garlic cloves minced


  • Move oven rack to upper-middle position and preheat oven to 375 degrees F.


  • Cook shells as per package instructions until al dente. Drain shells and transfer to kitchen towel-lined baking sheet. Reserve 24 shells, discarding any that have broken.


  • While shells cook, make meat sauce. In large skillet over medium heat add ground beef and cook until browned. Drain off fat and add sauce. Mix until combined.
  • Spread half meat sauce into bottom or 13 x 9-inch baking dish (or any other, large 3-quart pan); set aside.


  • Pulse crackers in food processor until finely ground. Add cottage cheese, 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, Parmesan, basil, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and process until smooth.
  • Place mixture into quart-sized plastic bag, seal and snip off 1 corner of bag. Pipe 2 tablespoons filling into each shell.


  • Nestle the filled shells, seam side up, on top of meat sauce. Evenly distribute remaining sauce over shells.
  • Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake until bubbling around edges, 30-35 minutes. Remove foil and sprinkle with remaining mozzarella.
  • Bake until cheese is just melted, about 5 minutes.
  • Let cool for 10 minutes. Garnish with additional Parmesan cheese and basil. Serve.



Serving: 2.5shells | Calories: 497kcal | Carbohydrates: 59g | Protein: 38g | Fat: 12g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Cholesterol: 60mg | Sodium: 1281mg | Potassium: 786mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 780IU | Vitamin C: 8.3mg | Calcium: 481mg | Iron: 3.3mg

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This post first appeared on Food Folks and Fun on January 11, 2016.

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Recipe Rating


  1. Thomas Murphy says:

    I want to try the Summer Vegetable Slaw.

  2. Jerry Marquardt says:

    I would like to try the Cedar Plank Grilled Salmon & Brussel Sprouts recipe the most. It looks wonderfully delicious!

  3. I like the look of the Orange Cranberry Stuffed Pork Chops, it’s making me hungry!

  4. This has become a family favorite. Thank you!!

  5. Sara Welch says:

    This is everything a gourmet dish should be, and then some! So delicious that there aren’t any leftovers! Yum!

  6. I am hungry now! This recipe looks awesome. I am going to replace the meat with soy sauce and try it out.

  7. Shivani Raja says:

    Mmm these look so tasty! I love all your process shots too!

  8. Amy | The Cook Report says:

    Love the sound of this, perfect comfort food!

  9. Heidy L. McCallum says:

    Made this for my family yesterday, they turned out wonderful. I will be keeping these stuffed shells on our dinner rotation. Great instructions.

  10. My husband is Italian so I’m always trying to find new ways to make his favorite dishes lighter. This is perfect. Thanks!

    1. You are so welcome, enjoy! 🙂

  11. Thank you for the information about the difference between Manicotti and stuffed shell. And also for the great tips on freezing them. Very informative 😀

  12. This skinnier stuffed shells recipe is THE BEST!!

  13. Yummy! This is such a great dinner and was a big hit! Definitely making this recipe again! My family was all over this!

  14. Was looking for a stuffed shell recipe. This looks fab. Preparing it tonight for dinner. Thanks!

  15. Bintu | Budget Delicious says:

    Stuffed shells are a family favourite here and these sound absolutely delicious! I love that you have made them skinnier too!

  16. Tania | Fit Foodie Nutter says:

    What a delicious recipe for a weeknight family meal or a weekend get together with friends! Love everything about it! x

  17. Thank you so much for sharing this shell recipe! Super tasty and will surely make it again!