Unstuffed Shells: Easy and Divine

By America’s Test Kitchen | March 15th, 2023

The flavor of stuffed shells without all the fuss – you’ll thank us!

Making stuffed shells is tedious, meticulously stuffing each individual par-boiled pasta shell. Try this recipe for unstuffed shells instead. Everything comes together in a single dish.

Making stuffed shells is a tedious process. On a busy weeknight, no one has time to meticulously stuff each and every individual par-boiled pasta shell. Do yourself a favor and try this recipe for unstuffed shells instead. You’ll thank us later, for time saved and a tummy satisfied.

The base of the dish features butternut squash, leeks, and garlic, while a touch of white wine and heavy cream add a luxurious decadence. Rather than “stuffing” the shells, you’ll simply dollop the dish with cheese before baking until bubbly and golden.

Unstuffed Shells with Butternut Squash and Leeks

Serves 4 to 6

Notes: You can substitute large or medium shells, ziti, farfalle, campanelle, or orecchiette for the jumbo shells here. The skillet will be very full when you add the shells in Step 3 (stir gently to start), but will become more manageable as the liquid evaporates and the shells become more malleable. You will need a 12-inch oven-safe nonstick skillet for this recipe.


  • 8 ounces (1 cup) whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (5 cups)
  • 1 pound leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced thin, and washed thoroughly
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 12 ounces jumbo pasta shells
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil


  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Combine ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan, lemon zest, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl; cover and refrigerate until needed.
  2. Heat oil in a 12-inch oven-safe nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add squash, leeks, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook until leeks are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add wine and cook until almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute.
  3. Stir in water and cream, then add pasta. Increase heat to medium-high and cook at vigorous simmer, stirring gently and often, until pasta is tender and liquid has thickened, about 15 minutes.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan over top, then dollop evenly with ricotta mixture. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until Parmesan is melted and spotty brown, about 5 minutes. Remove skillet from oven (skillet handle will be hot). Let cool for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with basil and serve.

More one-pot pasta recipes:

With sweet Italian sausage, peas, and cheese

Tomato-basil pasta

Garlicky shrimp pasta

“Cheesy” pasta

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©2023 America’s Test Kitchen. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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