In this Mexican Stuffed Shells recipe, juicy, taco-seasoned ground beef gets stuffed into jumbo shells along with three kinds of cheese and an insane amount of flavor. The shells are topped off with a quick-fix Ranchero sauce -- the marinara of Mexico! It's a fun twist on pasta night and one the entire family will love!
WHAT MAKES THESE MEXICAN STUFFED SHELLS THE BEST!
While this recipe comes together from scratch (without the use of taco sauce, canned enchilada sauce, and/or salsa from a jar), it won't require any more time than those that call for ready-made fixings. Instead, we'll use a mix of both fresh veggies and flavor-packed spices to create an all-in-one pasta dinner that checks all the nutritional boxes!
The cheesy, meaty taco filling takes only 15 minutes to make and the sauce comes together insanely fast by simply adding ingredients to a bowl, and giving them a stir!
And, rather than heating the oven to 350 degrees and cooking the shells for 30 minutes, we're going to crank up the heat to 400 degrees and shave a good 5 minutes off the total bake time! Everything is already cooked going into the oven, so really, we're just looking to meld some flavors and get those shells looking irresistibly bubbly.
HOW TO MAKE MEXICAN STUFFED SHELLS
- Cook the Shells
- Make the Filling
- Stir Sauce Ingredients Together
- Assemble the Shells and Bake
COOK THE SHELLS
The Mexican Stuffed Shells filling will take you about 15 minutes to cook so it's best to get your water boiling before all other kitchen tasks. This way your shells can cook through and have a bit of time to cool off before you have to handle them!
Cook the pasta shells to al dente according to package directions, drain well, and set aside to cool.
MAKE THE MEXICAN STUFFED SHELLS FILLING
For the filling, you'll begin with fresh chopped onions and jalapenos. The jalapenos are an optional ingredient, but add a great deal of flavor and are highly recommended for this recipe! If you're worried about heat, just be sure to remove the seeds and membrane and all will be well!
Add oil to a large pan over medium-high heat, and then add the chopped veggies. Stir them around until softened, and then, add the meat!
For the meat in this Mexican Stuffed Shells recipe, you can use ground turkey or ground beef. Lean/low-fat meat will make for a more efficient cooking process. However, if you only have meat with an 80/20 fat content, you can use it, but you'll want to spoon the excess fat out of the pan after cooking!
Add the meat to the pan, along with the taco seasoning, and cook it through, about 6 to 8 minutes. Once the meat is browned, you'll reduce the heat and add in the cream cheese, along with shredded Cheddar and Monterey Jack.
Stir the beef mixture until everything is looking nice and melty, and the filling is officially done! Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside.
MIX SAUCE INGREDIENTS TOGETHER
There has never, in the history of ever, been an easier sauce recipe. To make this quick-fix Ranchero-style sauce for your Mexican Stuffed Shells, all you have to do is stir together the tomato sauce, sugar, salt, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, and black pepper in a medium-sized mixing bowl. And, that's all there is to that!
You might be questioning the addition of sugar. If that's the case, allow me to explain: Tomato sauce is naturally very acidic. By adding just a couple of teaspoons of granulated sugar, you can balance out any bitterness and/or acidity from the tomatoes, making for a well-rounded, perfectly flavored sauce!
ASSEMBLE THE SHELLS AND BAKE
Before you begin stuffing those shells, you'll want to ladle about ¾ cup of sauce into a 9x13" casserole dish. This will keep the pasta from sticking to the dish!
Then, fill each shell with about 2 tablespoons of the cheesy meat mixture. If you have a medium-sized cookie scoop, use it! It makes this task so much easier!
Place your Mexican Stuffed Shells into the casserole dish, spoon the remaining sauce over the top of them, and finish everything off with the rest of the Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheese.
Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake at 400°F for 20 minutes. Then, remove the foil and allow it to cook in the oven for about 5 minutes more, just until the sauce is looking nice and bubbly and the cheese is melted!
Allow to cool slightly, top with sliced green onion and chopped cilantro (if desired), serve, and enjoy!
6 MORE MEXICAN RECIPES YOU’LL LOVE
- Mexican Spaghetti
- Shrimp Ceviche
- Carne Asada Tacos
- Chicken Flautas
- Mexican Bean Salad
- Mexican Shrimp Cocktail
Easy Mexican Stuffed Shells get stuffed with juicy taco meat and three kinds of cheese, topped off with a quick-fix Mexican marinara! It's a fun twist on pasta night and one the entire family will love!
- ½ (12-ounce) package jumbo shells
- 2 tablespoons avocado or olive oil
- ½ yellow onion, finely diced
- 4 jalapenos, seeded and diced
- 1 pound 90/10 ground beef or ground turkey
- 1 (1-ounce) packet taco seasoning
- 1 (8-ounce) package softened cream cheese
- 1 cup freshly grated Cheddar, separated
- 1 cup freshly grated Monterey Jack cheese, separated
- ¼ cup milk
- 1 (24-ounce) can tomato sauce
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 2 ½ teaspoons cumin
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400° and have ready a greased 9x13" casserole dish.
Cook ½ of a 12-ounce package of shells (about 20 shells) to al dente according to package directions, drain, and set aside to cool.
While waiting on the shells to cook, begin on the filling. Add the oil to a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and allow to come to temperature. Add the onion and diced jalapenos and sauté for 3-4 minutes, just until softened.
Add the beef, break it apart with a wooden spoon, and sprinkle over the taco seasoning. Cook for 6-8 minutes, until the beef is fully cooked through.
Reduce the heat to low and stir in the cream cheese, ½ cup Cheddar, ½ cup Monterey Jack, and milk. Stir occasionally until melted. Remove from the heat and set aside.
To make the sauce, in a medium-sized mixing bowl, stir together the tomato sauce, sugar, salt, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, and pepper.
Add about ¾ cup of the sauce to the bottom of the casserole dish. Fill each shell with about 2 tablespoons of the beef filling (a cookie scoop works great for this task) and place them seam-side up in the casserole dish. Once your shells are filled, pour the remaining sauce across the tops of them, and sprinkle with the remaining cup of shredded cheeses.
Cover the dish with foil, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the edges are hot and bubbly, about 5 minutes more. Serve and enjoy.