If you're looking for a cozy pasta dish, it doesn't get better than this. These giant stuffed shells with vodka sauce, creamy ricotta filling and ground beef is truly the best and an absolute favourite in our house. If you love a creamy vodka sauce but you also want extra protein, add some ground beef. You won't regret it one bit. And if you don't do beef, add ground turkey, chicken or your favourite veggie ground mixture. It adds something extra to the standard vodka sauce and makes this dish a touch more filling too.
This recipe requires some prep time and cooking time. But you can also easily prep certain things in advance, making this more of a weeknight meal if done that way. Be sure to check out the tips section and prep section at the end of this post for more info on how to best do that.
Here's everything you'll need to make these meat stuffed shells with vodka sauce.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and drizzle in some extra virgin olive oil. Once warm, add the shallot and cook, stirring often, until softened, about three to four minutes. Add in the garlic and cook for one minute and then add the spinach and stir to combine. Cook until the spinach has wilted, about two minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into a large mixing bowl.
To the bowl with the spinach, add the ricotta, parmesan, egg, lemon zest and season well with salt and pepper. Mix to combine everything and set aside in the fridge until ready to use.
Heat the same skillet used to make the spinach filling to medium heat. Once the skillet is warm, add the ground beef and cook, breaking it apart until browned and cooked through, about ten minutes. Season with salt and pepper and then remove the beef and set aside.
Once the cashews have softened, drain and add them to a blender along with 1 cup of water and blend on high until smooth and creamy, set the blender aside.
In the same skillet, over medium-low heat, add a splash of olive oil. Once hot, add the onion and cook, stirring often until softened, about five minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes and cook for one minute. Season with the salt.
Squeeze in the tomato paste and cook until it deepens in colour, about three to four minutes, stirring often.
Deglaze by pouring in the vodka and scrape up any bits from the skillet, cook for a few minutes. Pour the tomato paste mixture into the blender along with the cashew cream and blend on high. The sauce will be very thick, don't worry, it will get thinned out with pasta water.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the shells slightly less than the package directions, reserve some pasta water. Drain the shells and toss with a little olive oil to keep from sticking together.
Ladle the pasta water into the blender and blend on high until smooth, you'll need about 3/4 cup of pasta water to start and can add more as needed.
Pour the vodka sauce back into the same skillet you used prior and add the ground beef. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper (and chili flakes) as needed.
Preheat the oven.
Pour about 1 cup of the meat sauce into a cast iron pan. Add the shells to the pan, open side up.
Spoon the ricotta mixture into a plastic bag with the tip cut and pipe into the shells, filling them up to the top.
Pour about 1 1/2 cups of the vodka sauce over the shells (you may have some remaining sauce, it's up to you to use how much you want depending on preference).
Top the shells with the shredded mozzarella and cover with foil.
Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, remove the foil and bake for five to seven minutes longer, until everything is bubbly and melted.
Scatter the parmesan and basil over top and season with salt and pepper. Serve and enjoy!
I exclusively use Diamond Crystal kosher salt for all of my recipes. I prefer the texture, taste and consistency of this brand and highly recommend it for everyday cooking.
Stainless Steel Skillet:
I love my Made In stainless steel skillets so much. I have the 8", 10" and 12" stainless steel pans and I use them all the time in my kitchen. Their products are great quality and so long as you take care of them and follow their care instructions, they'll last forever.
I love my Our Place nonstick skillet for certain recipes that benefit from a nonstick skillet. Their products are high quality and I love that the nonstick skillet is made without toxic materials. I have the Always Pan 2.0 and definitely recommend. Be sure to always follow their care instructions and it should last quite a while! I've had mine for two years and it's still as good as new.
Looking for more weeknight dinner ideas? Try these...
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These giant stuffed shells with vodka sauce have a ricotta and spinach filing and ground beef mixed into the sauce. Top with lots of fresh basil and enjoy!
Prep tip: soak the cashews first by boiling water in a kettle. Place the raw cashews in a bowl and cover with the just boiled water. Let them sit for about 30 minutes until softened.
The filling can be prepped in advance as well as the vodka meat sauce (without the additional pasta water). Blend the pasta water into the sauce when you're ready to bake everything. See prep notes for more.