Ricotta and Chicken Sausage Stuffed Shells

I miss my Josephine dearly. She and I were good friends, in the end, and I spoke to her on the phone many times a week. I still think to call her all the time when I’m driving, to tell her of the antics Violet and I are up to and hear her raspy old voice shouting from Connecticut. When I was a girl we would visit my grandparents every Sunday; they lived a perfect distance, about an hour away from our house. We’d spend all day cooking, eating, browsing at the shops, visiting with extended family, playing Pokeno, and watching Mash and Barney Miller on TV, and leave for home when it got dark. She would always call out into the night from the back door, as we piled into our car, to “ring her twice”, so she would know that we arrived back safely. I think this had to do with long distance charges, which sets this story firmly in the past. Some Sundays my Grandpa Jack would slow cook a pot roast, in summer we barbecued in the backyard. And while there are many comfort dishes my grandmother was famous for, her stuffed shells are probably most iconic in our clan. Since she never divulged exactly how she made most things, I have freely adapted what I remember from her recipe, but it is in keeping with the spirit of red sauce Nonna home cooking. I’m ringing you twice, Josie, wherever you are, so you know that I am home safe.

Ricotta and Chicken Sausage Stuffed Shells

Ingredients:

For the filling:

  • 4 chicken sausage links, roughly chopped*
  • 1 small tub whole milk ricotta
  • 1/2 cup shredded Asiago cheese
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 egg

For the sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 oz mushrooms, diced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste

For the shells:

  • 1 box large pasta shells
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella, torn into bits

Method:

In a large mixing bowl, combine filling ingredients and set aside.

Drizzle olive oil into a large skillet over medium heat, add onions, season with salt and pepper, and stir. Add garlic, mushrooms, rosemary and saute, 7-10 minutes. Splash the wine into the pan, add the spinach and remove from the heat. Stir in the tomato paste.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook shells according to package directions.

When the shells are done, drain, stirring about 1/4 cup of the pasta liquid into the sauce. Spread the sauce into a 13 x 9 inch pan.

Stuff each shell with a heaping teaspoon of ricotta filling and place – tightly fit – in the pan. Drizzle the shells with olive oil, cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake, 30 minutes. Remove foil, top with mozzarella, and broil, 5-10 minutes, until browned.

* Packaged chicken sausage, ready to heat and serve

Jillian Bedell

Jillian Bedell is a writer and mother living in a farmhouse in Cushing, Maine. She is very good at talking about herself in the third person. She is co-author of Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road.

17 Comments

  1. This looks delicious.

    Two technical things: 1) is there a way to have the image of the dish appear on the “Print” version of the recipe? 2) When I attempt to pin the recipe on pinterest, the image on this particular recipe isn’t showing up at all.

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  2. I found this on Pinterest and made it this evening. I have to thank you for sharing your grandmother’s recipe. I tweaked mine a bit to match up with the ingredients I had. It turned out very tasty. However, I over did it with the tomato paste. Instead of using exactly 2 Tblsp. I actually used a whole can with an equal amount of spinach. I used a pinch of sugar to help take some of that tangy tomato pasty taste out…. in case of heart burn and blanketed the bottom of the baking dish with the sauce while tightly lining up the shells and stuffed. My mom who is a diabetic, tried it but only a taste. I was trying to find some whole grain shells.. something that wouldn’t spike her sugar. Needless to say she thought it was ok but again, couldn’t fully indulge. My dad loved it! Just said I was missing wine to pair with the dish! LOL

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  3. Question: is the sausage already cooked before it’s chopped for the filling, or is it raw? I chopped the sausage “raw” & seemed to need more than 30 minutes baking time…

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      1. You could brown the sausage first, if you feel squiggly about it, but the kind you get from the grocery store is already cooked through, so it’s not strictly necessary. Hope that answers your question…sorry it took me so long to reply! j

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  4. Just found you via pinterest, also grew up in New England (Boston) and had to also “Ring twice” to let my grandmother know we’d made it home safely right up until she passed away in 2007 <3 Whenever we chatted she would say "your phone bill is going to be awfully expensive!" despite my explaining the flat rate etc. I finally gave up and let her feel that I was "splurging" on a long distance call to her! I have also relocated to Maine, it seems to be where all the cool kids are lol! I have not found much in the way of tantalizing cuisine here so I am thrilled to explore your site!!

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  5. Just made this and was disappointed. It was very bland. I will try again with regular sausage and an actual tomato sauce for shells to cook in. It looked delicious but just didn’t deliver. I chucked most of it out. Oh well, maybe I did something wrong

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  6. I’ve made this recipe a few times and our family loves it! It’s absolutely wonderful. As another person said, I’m going to double the sauce from now on, as it’s sooo good!
    One stupid question: how much is “a small tub” of ricotta, please?
    Thanks again for sharing this wonderful recipe.
    P.S. I grew up in upstate NY, where we used to “ring once” from the high school pay phone when we wanted to let mom know it was time to get picked up from soccer practice. It saved paying the dime, which you were to drop in the pay phone when the called party picked up the receiver.

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  7. I was excited to try this recipe, but disappointed in the “sauce”. Granted there are different definitions of “sauce”, but this one seems to be nothing more than a thin layer of moist chopped stuff in the bottom of the baking dish. If you were lucky, you got a little of it when you scooped a shell into your bowl. Since this was a dry’ish pasta dish, I was also a little concerned about placing it under the broiler for so long, and that the edges of the shells would get crunchy. I watched it closely at this step and broiled for about 7 mins. The use of heat&eat chicken sausage in the filling was a time saver but since we weren’t instructed to heat the sausage, and the ricotta was cold.. the dish probably could have cooked another 5 or even 10 mins to get piping hot. I do plan to make this again, but will probably add the mushrooms and rosemary to a nice alfredo, and probably drink the wine 🙂 Thank you for the inspirations.

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