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Giant Cheese Stuffed Shells (Olive Garden Copycat Recipe)

Giant Cheese Stuffed Shells (Olive Garden Copycat Recipe) are super easy to make in the comfort of your own kitchen and I think even more delicious when you make them homemade. What’s in them? Italian cheeses filled in pasta shells, nestled on top of rich marinara sauce, topped with a creamy Alfredo sauce and finally a spirinkle of crunchy breadcrumb topping. This Italian-American comfort food just doesn’t get any better! If you love copyat Olive Garden recipes, this one’s a must-try!


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What’s your favorite menu item at the Olive Garden? Is it chicken alfredo or these giant cheese-stuffed shells? One of their most popular recipes, I’m sure – giant shells recipe was an easy choice for me to make for our family. Not to worry if they’re discontinued….you can make them at home!

Our whole family loved this vegetarian pasta dish and I have been asked to make ‘a lot of Olive Garden copycat recipes’.

The best thing about this recipe is that it makes a big batch and we almost always have leftovers which reheat to cheesy perfection.

What are giant cheese-stuffed shells?

Large pasta shells are called conchiglioni and they’re typically served as a main course. They look like conch shells and if you love a delicious Italian dish, they’re a winner.

What’s great about this recipe

  • It’s a simple, yet delicious and comforting meal. The creamy alfredo sauce is so rich and creamy. I think you’re going to love it!
  • Cheese-stuffed giant shells are the ideal make-ahead recipe. It’s a dream to walk in the door and put these in the oven after a long day at work. Freeze for later and they’re absolutely delicious leftover.
  • Made with simple ingredients that you can always find in the grocery store. Pasta dishes like this one are great to have in your reportoire of easy recipes to make for busy weeknights.

If Italian pasta dishes are your favorite, next time try these recipes!

Pasta e Piselle (Pasta & Peas)

Tagliatelle ai Funghi (Tagliatelle with Mushrooms)

Cheesy Beef Cannelloni

Italian Sausage Stuffed Shells Recipe (coming soon)!

Ingredients & substitutions for Giant Cheese-Stuffed Shells

These ingredients are pretty simple and you can always find them in a local grocery store. Be sure to use the best quality of cheeses – the type that you grate on your own, especially a wedge of Parmesan!

Gooey cheese is always a result of using fresh cheese vs. the store-bought pre-shredded variety.

By the way, you can find a full list of ingredients with amounts at the bottom of this page on a fully printable recipe card.

  • Breadcrumbs – I used plain, store-bought breadcrumbs. You could also use the breadcrumbs that have the Italian seasoning mixed in or homemade breadcrumbs.
  • Butter – you’ll need just a little butter to mix in with the breadcrumbs. I used salted or you can also used unsalted butter.
  • Large pasta shells – You can use jumbo pasta shells, the giant shells if you can find them. The large ones like I used worked perfectly.
  • Ricotta cheese – I like to use full-fat ricotta cheese for this pasta recipe.
  • Egg – large egg for this recipe (and all of my recipes!).
  • Heavy cream – heavy whipping cream is best for the Alfredo sauce.
  • Mozzarella cheese – fresh mozzarella that you grate yourself is the best. You can also use a three-cheese blend of Italian cheese. There are many substitutes for mozzarella that would be suitable but I suggest sticking to mozzarella!
  • Parmesan cheese – I know, it can be tempting sometimes to use the Parmesan cheese in the green shaker. Fresh Parmesan is so delicious in this recipe. It has so much more flavor! With three kinds of cheese in this recipe, the flavors will be out-of-this-world…especially if you use the best quality.
  • Italian seasoning – If you don’t have Italian seasoning, you can create your own with equal parts of dried oregano, basil, thyme and rosemary.
  • Garlic – use fresh garlic for these cheesy stuffed shells. In a pinch you could substitute garlic powder, but I highly recommend using fresh garlic in this shells recipe.
  • Marinara sauce – we used a good quality store-bought marinara sauce or you can make homemade marinara sauce. You can always substitute jar sauce in all of my pasta recipes! In a pinch you could also use store-bought spaghetti sauce – your favorite brand.
  • Parsley – you can use curly parsley, flat leaf Italian parsley or even fresh basil.
Baked giant shells in marinara sauce in casserole dish.

How many giant pasta shells per person?

Plan for 2-4 giant pasta shells per person. Two would be an average serving and up to four for larger appetitites.

Can you substitute the ricotta cheese in shells for cottage cheese?

Yes, you can substitute cottage cheese using a 1:1 ratio.

Variations

Add fresh or frozen spinach 250g (8 ounces) to the ricotta mixture.

Substitute manicotti shells for the giant shells.

In a pinch you could substitute store-bought alfredo sauce for the homemade alfredo sauce.

How to Make Giant Stuffed Cheese Shells Like Olive Garden

You can find a full printable recipe card at the bottom of this page. I’ve included some step-by-step photos to help you along the way as you make the recipe.

This recipe comes together in a few easy steps:

Step 1 – Preheat oven to 375°F. You will need a lightly greased 9×13-inch casserole dish for this recipe.

Step 2 Melt 1 Tablespoon butter in a small saucepan or skillet over medium heat. Stir in the breadcrumbs and cook for 1-2 minutes. Set aside.

Step 3Cook the pasta shells in boiling, salted water according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Step 4 – Make the cheese filling

In a large mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese, 1 cup of mozzarella cheese, 1 and 1/4 cups of Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, minced garlic, pepper and egg. Stir until well combined. (This cheese filling is also one of my favorite fillings for lasagna noodles)!

Step 5 – Spread 1 cup of marinara sauce in the bottom of prepared casserole dish.

Step 6 – Using a small spoon, stuff the shells with ricotta mixture. The shells are large enough that you can gently open them with your fingers as you fill them with the mixture.

You can also use a piping bag or ziplock bag like i did with beef cannelloni, but I find it pretty easy to use a spoon with the stuffed shells.

Place shells in a single layer in baking dish on top of the marinara sauce.

For the remaining marinara sauce, you have two options:

in the photos, you will see that I did not top with remaining marinara sauce. You can either pour the rest completely over top or spread a little on top and the remaining sauce around the shells. You can also heat it up and serve it on the side.

Cover casserole dish with foil and cook in 375°F oven for 25 minutes.

Tip: Spray aluminum foil with a little baking spray before covering the casserole dish. This will stop it from sticking to the top of the shells if your dish is a little on the shallow side.

Step 7 – Make the Alfredo sauce while the shells are cooking for 25 minutes. The sauce only takes about five minutes to make, so make it towards the end of the baking time.

In a large skillet, melt 6 Tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add in 1 teaspoon of minced garlic and cook for two minutes.

Stir in half and half cream and 1 and 1/4 cups Parmesan cheese. Stir until smooth and slightly thickened. Taste and season with freshly ground black pepper.

Step 8 – After the 25 minute baking time, remove dish from the oven and spoon alfredo sauce on top of and around the shells. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs.

Set oven to ‘broil’ and set under broiler for 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and enjoy!

My Top Tips

  • Use the best cheeses for pasta. Head to the deli cheese section and buy the best quality cheese that are not pre-shredded for most delicious results.
  • Cook a few extra pasta shells in case some tear during cooking and handling. Serve them on the side for leftovers the next day.

Storage, Freezing & Reheating Instructions

Store cooled shells in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days. To reheat, place one serving on plate and microwave for 30 second intervals until heated through.

Can I freeze cooked stuffed shells?

Yes, stuffed shells is the perfect dish for making ahead and freezing for later. Place in airtight container and freeze for up to two months. Thaw overnight in the fridge between cooking in a 350°F oven to 25 minutes.

Should I defrost frozen stuffed shells before baking?

Yes, take the frozen stuffed shells out of the freezer and thaw overnight in the refrigerator. To reheat, preheat oven to 350°F and cook for 25 minutes until heated through. Serve with additional marinara sauce that has been heated on the stovetop. Freezing stuffed shells for later is perfect for busy weeknights.

How to Serve Giant Cheese Stuffed Shells

Place a small amount of marinara sauce on a plate. Top with two to four stuffed shellss. Srpinkle with additional grated Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I use in place of ricotta in stuffed shells?

You can substitute ricotta cheese with cottage cheese or queso fresco cheese with a 1:1 ratio for similar flavor profiles and creamy texture.

Why are my stuffed shells watery?

Not draining the pasta properly is the likely cause of watery shells. Carefully drain the delicate pasta and ensure that they are well-drained.

What are good side dishes for stuffed shells

Serve with zuppa toscana or my favorite soup pasta e fagiole! Garlic bread and a fresh green salad are two favorites in our family.

Helpful tips for Pasta Lovers!

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Giant cheese stuffed shells on a white plate.

Giant Cheese Stuffed Shells (Olive Garden Copycat Recipe)


  • Author: Sandra Flegg
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Description

Giant Cheese Stuffed Shells (Olive Garden Copycat Recipe) are super easy to make in the comfort of your own kitchen with simple step-by-step instructions that I’ve provided.  Italian cheeses filled in pasta shells, nestled on top of rich marinara sauce, topped with a creamy Alfredo sauce and finally a spirinkle of crunchy breadcrumb topping. This Italian-American comfort food just doesn’t get any better! If you love copyat Olive Garden recipes, this one’s a must-try!


Ingredients

1/4 cup dried breadcrumbs

7 Tablespoon butter, divided

16 to 20 pasta shells

16 ounces (453g) ricotta cheese

1 large egg

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1 and 1/3 cups mozzarella cheese

1 and 1/4 cups Parmesan cheese

Black pepper

1 and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

1 clove fresh garlic, minced

1 jar (24 ounces) marinara sauce

fresh parsley


Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch casserole dish for this recipe. 
  2.  Melt 1 Tablespoon butter in a small saucepan or skillet over medium heat. Stir in the breadcrumbs and cook for 1-2 minutes. Set aside.

  3.  Cook the pasta shells in boiling, salted water according to package directions. Drain and set aside. 

  4. Make the cheese filling: In a large mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese, 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese, 1 and 1/4 cups of Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, minced garlic, pepper and egg. Stir until well combined. (This cheese filling is also one of my favorite fillings for lasagna noodles)!

  5. Spread 1 cup of marinara sauce in the bottom of prepared casserole dish.

  6. Using a small spoon, stuff the shells with ricotta mixture. The shells are large enough that you can gently open them with your fingers as you fill them with the mixture. 
  7. You can also use a piping bag or ziplock bag like i did with beef cannelloni, but I find it pretty easy to use a spoon with the stuffed shells. Place shells in a single layer in baking dish on top of the marinara sauce.

  8. For the remaining marinara sauce, you have two options: In the photos, you will see that I did not top with remaining marinara sauce. You can either pour the rest completely over top or spread a little on top and the remaining sauce around the shells. You can also heat it up and serve it on the side. 

  9.  Make the Alfredo sauce while the shells are cooking: In a large skillet, melt 6 Tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add in 1 teaspoon of minced garlic and cook for two minutes. Stir in half and half cream and 1 and 1/4 cups Parmesan cheese. Stir until smooth and slightly thickened. Taste and season with freshly ground black pepper. 

  10. After the 25 minute baking time, remove from the oven and spoon alfredo sauce on top of and around the shells. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. 

  11. Set oven to ‘broil’ and set under broiler for 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and enjoy!

Notes

Storage & Reheating Leftovers: Store cooled shells in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days. To reheat, place one serving on plate and microwave for 30 second intervals until heated through. 

Freezing instructions: Stuffed shells is the perfect dish for making ahead and freezing for later. Place in airtight container and freeze for up to two months. Thaw overnight in the fridge between cooking in a 350°F oven to 25 minutes.

Should I defrost frozen stuffed shells before baking?

Yes, take the frozen stuffed shells out of the freezer and thaw overnight in the refrigerator. To reheat, preheat oven to 350°F and cook for 25 minutes until heated through. Serve with additional marinara sauce that has been heated on the stovetop. Freezing stuffed shells for later is perfect for busy weeknights. 

Variations:

Add cooked veggies to the ricotta mixture – sauté a combination of finely chopped bell peppers, mushrooms, onions and zucchini.  (I do this in my chicken manicotti and it’s delicious!) 

Add cooked spinach to the ricotta mixture – Add fresh or frozen spinach(cooked)  250g (8 ounces) to the ricotta mixture. 

Add cooked meat – stir in 1/2 pound of cooked ground beef, ground turkey or bulk Italian sausage to the ricotta mixture. 

Change up the sauce – you can easily used jarred alfredo sauce, spaghetti sauce or vodka sauce (from Gigi Hadid Pasta Recipe). You can also skip the marinar and make a double batch of alfredo sauce and spread it over the bottom of the baking dish. 

  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Oven Bakd
  • Cuisine: American-Italian

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 4 giant shells
  • Calories: 1423
  • Sugar: 9.3 g
  • Sodium: 982.7 mg
  • Fat: 43 g
  • Saturated Fat: 25 g
  • Trans Fat: 0.2 g
  • Carbohydrates: 192.3 g
  • Fiber: 9.5 g
  • Protein: 63.7 g
  • Cholesterol: 151.1 mg

Keywords: giant cheese-stuffed shells, olive garden copycat giant cheese-stuffed shells

One Comment

  1. Big hit in our house these giant cheese stuffed shells make such a terrific fun easy dinner with a salad and we loved having the leftovers to warm up the next day!!

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