If there’s one thing you might have learned about me by now it’s that I like to take unconventional spins on conventional, classic dishes. Today, I tackle the iconic, cheesy, meaty Italian staple known as stuffed shells. Normally, one one have to first boil the shells first AND THEN pipe a ricotta mixture into them AND THEN create a rich meat sauce AND THEN set the stuffed shells in a casserole dish and sauce them up AND THEN bake them.
Yeah. Ain’t nobody got time fo’ that! You wanna know why? We aren’t stuffing these shells. That’s right – I said it! Why? Because the jumbo shells we use already have a nice, wide opening, just begging to scoop up all the meaty-cheesy goodness that comes its way. Yes, these are the shells that stuff themselves in this absolutely spectacular and simple Instant Pot reinvention of a usually messy and involved dish. ALL of the flavor with none of the labor!
And if you want a baked finish with a bubbly-browned cheesy top? The Air Fryer Lid has you covered – literally!
Here’s How I Made It! (scroll to the bottom for the fully-written recipe):
Take an onion…
…and dice it up. This completes any snapping (or chopping) in this recipe.
Add some olive oil to the Instant Pot and heat it up.
Then add in the onion and sauté for a few moments.
Toss in some garlic…
…and sauté a moment longer.
WHERE’S THE BEEF?! Right here!
Add it to the pot and break it down so it crumbles.
As it begins to cook, it will release its juices. Use these to deglaze/scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pot (if not using meat, add in a splash of a dry red wine or Worcestershire sauce to deglaze the bottom fo the pot to so it’s nice and smooth).
Once lightly browned and crumbled (it shouldn’t be fully cooked), we’re good here.
Add in a broth of your choice…
…a good marinara sauce (feel free to make mine from my book).
…fresh basil leaves…
…and some hot sauce (don’t worry, it won’t make it spicy – just adds more flavor).
Now give it all a grand ‘ole stir…
…so everything is nice and combined.
Now let’s add in our jumbo shells. Use a spoon or spatula to press them down into the liquid but DO NOT STIR them in. There’s already a lot going on in the pot with the meat. Simply let them sit on top and push them down and smooth them out…
…so they’re nicely submerged in the liquid. Secure the lid and cook at high pressure.
As the shells are stewin’, make the ricotta cheese mixture (that DIDN’T need to be messily spooned/piped into hot, flimsy pre-cooked shells). To a bowl, add some ricotta…
…dried parsley flakes and salt…
If you want it even greener, add some chopped spinach (I use a frozen box and microwave it for 3 1/2 minutes and then squeeze/drain all the water through a colander).
Give it all a stir until well-combined and set aside.
When done, give everything a nice, light stir.
Then, add in the ricotta mixture…
…and gently stir.
If you want it even more decadent and out-of-this-world good, add in some Boursin or cream cheese.
Give it all a stir until all the dairy is fully-melded into the sauce. And note as you stir, the shell will SCOOP up the amazing cheesy/meaty/sauciness of it all! Allow it to set for a few minutes as the sauce will thicken.
Now, if you want an optional bubbly-browned cheesy top done right in the pot, add more shredded mozzarella…
…and place the air fryer lid on top! (Alternatively, you can place everything in a casserole dish, cover with cheese there and broil for a few minutes).
When done, prepare yourselves for a bubbly-brown, cheesy work of art!
Plate it up…
…scoop it up…
…try it out…
…and this is pretty much how you’ll react.
In fact, since we already decided to be unconventional, how about we take it all the way and have the shell serve as a pasta taco for all that cheesy, meaty, saucy filling?!
No shame here and the finger-lickin’ says it all!
Enjoy with garlic bread!
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves (1 tablespoon) garlic, minced or pressed
- 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
- 3 cups garlic or chicken broth (I used 3 teaspoons Garlic Better Than Bouillon + 3 cups water)
- 4 cups marinara sauce
- 1-2 tablespoons hot sauce (optional, it won’t be spicy – just adds extra flavor)
- 1 bunch basil, leaves only and rinsed well
- 1 box (12 ounces) jumbo pasta shells, uncooked
- 2 cups ricotta cheese
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, microwaved for 3 minutes and then drained through a fine-mesh colander (optional, and make sure to squeeze as much liquid out of the spinach as possible)
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (plus up to 2 cups more if you want the optional topping. See the yellow “Jeffrey Sez” section)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 5.2 ounce package of Boursin (any flavor) or any spreadable herb cheese OR 4 ounces (half) of a brick of cream cheese (optional, but suggested!)
- Add the olive oil to the Instant Pot and then hit “Sauté” and adjust so it’s on the “More” or “High” setting. Heat the oil for 3 minutes, or until shimmering.
- Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes, until lightly softened and translucent. Add garlic and cook for another minute.
- Add the ground beef and cook, stirring constantly to crumble, until lightly browned (about 2 minutes), scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.
- Pour in the broth, marinara sauce, hot sauce (if using) and basil leaves. Stir well
- Add the shells and DO NOT STIR—just press them down and smooth them out with a spoon so they’re mostly submerged in the sauce.
- Secure the lid, move the valve to the sealing position, hit “Keep Warm/Cancel” and then hit “Manual” or “Pressure Cook” at high pressure for 12 minutes. Quick release when done.
- Meanwhile, combine the ricotta, egg, dried parsley and salt in a mixing bowl.
- When the pot’s done cooking, it may appear a little soupy at first. That’s all about to change. GENTLY stir in the ricotta mixture (don’t worry – the raw egg will quickly be cooked by the heat from the pot’s contents), Boursin (or cream cheese), mozzarella and parmesan until totally melded. The shells will begin to scoop everything up as it’s mixed. Let it sit
- for 5 minutes for everything to slightly thicken and come together well.
- Serve with garlic bread to sop up all the sauce! (NOTE: for a cheesy-broiled top, see the yellow “Jeffrey Sez” section)
For a golden cheese top:
- If you have the Air Fryer Lid: cover the finished pasta with another 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, place the lid on top and hit Broil for 3 minutes until the cheese is melted and a bubbly brown.
- If you wish to use an oven, simply transfer the finished pasta to a casserole dish, cover with another 2 cups shredded mozzarella and pop it in a pre-heated oven at broil, uncovered, for about 3-5 minutes, until the cheese lightly bubbles and browns (be sure to keep an eye on it, as all ovens vary).
While I think 12 minutes it the perfect time for this, for more al dente shells, pressure cook for 8-10 minutes.
Want it vegetarian? Skip the meat in Step 3 and add in a splash of a dry red wine or Worcestershire sauce to deglaze the bottom fo the pot to so it’s nice and smooth.
This isn’t the most aesthetic dish because it’s like a saucy-meaty cheese-fest going on in the pot and if the shells become a bit unraveled while stirring or serving – so what? It’s still going to taste insane. Almost like an unbelievably decadent pasta stew that everyone will want seconds of.