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Pesto and Ricotta Stuffed Shells with Tomato Sauce

Pesto and Ricotta Stuffed Shells with Tomato Sauce excerpted from Cured by Steve McHugh & Paula Forbes.This dish looks like a lot of work, but it comes together pretty easily. It’s a fantastic pantry meal (assuming you’ve got pesto in your freezer!). You can make it ahead and freeze the whole thing in the pan, too. Just thaw it before baking; once thawed, it will take 15 to 20 minutes longer to bake than called for here.

Base Ingredient: Pesto

Many cuisines around the world have a chopped herb sauce in their repertoire, but my personal favorite is pesto. It’s quick to make and packs a ton of flavor into a tiny amount of space. It’s a great way to put up herbs from the garden ahead of a freeze; basil, yes, but any soft herbs (parsley, sorrel, chives) and even some greens (arugula, kale, spinach) make great pestos. Heck, I’ve been known to turn carrot tops into pesto. A mix of herbs can be nice as well. (Apologies to the Genovese for these detours from tradition.)

Pesto can be stored in deli containers by the cup or pint or, famously, frozen in ice cube trays for individual servings. If you’re choosing the latter route, pop them out of the ice cube tray once frozen and store them in a resealable plastic bag with as much air as possible squeezed out of it. This will help prevent freezer burn, allow for easier access, and free up your ice cube tray for other uses.

Pesto and Ricotta Stuffed Shells with Tomato Sauce excerpted from Cured by Steve McHugh & Paula Forbes.

Pesto and Ricotta Stuffed Shells with Tomato Sauce

Steve McHugh & Paula Forbes
Basil Pesto
I like a loose pesto, with more olive oil than most. Unfortunately, that means it has too much oil in it to freeze solid! But if you do not intend to use your pesto immediately, you’ll need to freeze it, as pesto will brown in the refrigerator. You’ll also need to adapt this recipe somewhat: To make freezer pesto, cut the olive oil down to 1⁄2 cup and freeze in an airtight container for up to 6 months. To use in the Application Recipes, thaw and whisk in the additional 1⁄2 cup olive oil prior to using.
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves, or 8 to 10 sprigs, or 2 ounces leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts 
1 garlic clove
2/3 cup shredded Parmesan 
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
Juice of 1/3 lemon
1) Pulse the basil, pine nuts, garlic, and cheese in a food processor until combined and crumbly looking, about 10 pulses.
2) Drizzle the olive oil into the mixture while continuing to pulse. You should end up with a loose puree. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
• 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 pound lean ground beef
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1 small onion, diced
• 2 carrots, peeled and diced
• 2 stalks celery, diced
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 3/4 cup whole milk
• 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes in puree or 1⁄2 recipe tomato sauce
• 1/2 cup dry white wine
• 2 cups chicken stock
1) Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and sear, without stirring, until browned, about 6 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is cooked through, 8 more minutes.
2) Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pot along with the onions, carrots, and celery and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 additional minute.
3) Add the milk to the pot, stir to combine, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the liquid has almost entirely evaporated, about 10 minutes.
4) Add the tomatoes, wine, and chicken stock and bring the mixture back to a simmer.
5) Reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, for 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until still moist but not soupy.
6) Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Course Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine Italian
Servings 6 -8 servings


  • 1 (12-ounce) box jumbo pasta shells (you will use about 24 shells for the recipe, but some will split while boiling, so boil more than you need)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1-1/2 cups ricotta
  • 1-1/2 cups pesto (above)
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Bolognese (above), Red Wine Tomato Sauce, Herby Tomato Sauce, or 4 cups store-bought pasta sauce
  • 1/2 cup torn fresh basil leaves


  • Heat the oven to 375°F.
  • Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta shells in the boiling water for 2 minutes less than the package instructions, as they will continue cooking in the oven.
  • Lightly whisk the egg in a medium mixing bowl. Then add the ricotta, pesto, Parmesan, salt, and pepper and whisk until fully incorporated.
  • When the pasta has finished cooking, drain and rinse it under cold water, until cool enough to handle. Toss the shells gently in a mixing bowl with the olive oil to prevent them from sticking to each other.
  • Cover the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch lasagna pan (or other 3-quart casserole) with the Bolognese.
  • A piping bag works well for filling the shells but is not strictly necessary. You can also use a resealable plastic bag with the corner cut off or a spoon. Fill each of your cooked shells with about 3 tablespoons of the cheese mixture. You should get about 24 filled shells. Nestle the stuffed shells into the sauce, seam-side up.
  • Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese filling has browned in places, 30 minutes. You can brown the shells a bit more under the broiler if you like.
  • Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Sprinkle the basil leaves over the top and serve.


Cured by Steve McHugh & Paula Forbes (© 2024). Photographs by Denny Culbert. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Recipe reprinted with permission from Cured by Steve McHugh & Paula Forbes (Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC., 2024). Photography by Denny Culbert.
Keyword Basil, Beef, carrots, Celery, Chicken stock, Cured, Egg, Garlic, Lemon, Onion, Parmesan, Pasta shells, Paula Forbes, Pine nuts, Ricotta, Steve McHugh, Tomatoes, white wine

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