This easy recipe for Baked Stuffed Shells with Sausage Marinara combines frozen pasta with a quick and easy homemade sauce.
I always laugh when people ask me where I get my recipe ideas. Often the answer is “I was hungry.” But really, after 18 years of blogging, I realize that my tastes and preferences do play a big role in what recipes I develop. But my children’s interests, local availability of ingredients, seasonality, what I thought about on my drive to here or there and how much time I have to cook matter too.
But the recipe development doesn’t stop at the idea. That’s just the beginning. From there, I have to write a test recipe, shop for ingredients and test it.
When it comes to recipes like this Baked Stuffed Shells with Sausage Marinara, that sometimes means multiple tests to try out different combinations of ingredients, timings and other variables. And, because of that work, I can say with confidence that this is best made with ground sweet Italian sausage. Don’t substitute hot Italian sausage — the flavor loses the rich appeal that this sauce does and the spiciness is just too much.
It’s also why I am positive that you will want one cup of cheese on top — no more, no less. It’s delightful combined with the sausage marinara and the stuffed shells but doesn’t overpower the dish.
And, for that matter, I can also confirm that you need to use a 3 quart, 9×13-inch pan. Don’t try to stuff these shells into a smaller one. The results aren’t as good and the mess from it bubbling over isn’t worth it.
Most importantly though, I can tell you that this Baked Stuffed Shells with Sausage Marinara recipe is a keeper. It’s rich and hearty, filling and comforting — perfect for a mid-winter dinner. And did I mention how easy it is to make? That helps too. Home cooking shouldn’t ever be a chore.
I do want to caution though: This will take you about an hour. That can be a lot for a busy night. But it’s possible to make the dish ahead as well, which can speed up the cooking process.
- 1 lb ground sweet Italian sausage
- 1 medium yellow or sweet onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 20-oz package frozen stuffed shells
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- In a large pan set over medium heat, brown the sweet Italian sausage, breaking it up as you go. Once browned, push it to one side of the pan and add the onions and garlic to the other side. Cover and cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the onions begin to soften.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, dried basil, dried oregano, bay leaf, salt and pepper to the pan and stir to combine. Cover and boil for 5 minutes to allow the flavors to begin to meld.
- Meanwhile, heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Remove the sauce from the burner and spread a layer in the bottom of a 3 quart rectangular glass baking dish (about 9x13-inches). The sauce should be hot when you do this. Place the frozen stuffed shells on top and smoother with the remaining sauce. Spread the mozzarella cheese evenly across the top. Cover loosely with foil, taking care to not let it touch the cheese.
- Slice the baking dish into the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until its bubbling around the edges profusely. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 5 minutes.
- Remove from the oven to a trivet and serve.
Want to make this ahead? Prepare the Baked Stuffed Shells through step 4. Let cool slightly before refrigerating for up to 48 hours. Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before baking.