BOY did I ever have a fun day in the kitchen making these babies! I always have fun, but sometimes, there’s just “those dishes” that you just enjoy making and figuring out so much, that you don’t know which was more fun! Making it or eating it! 😀
And this was just one of those times! I was jonesing for some Mexican food, one of my all-time favorite cuisines, but plain ol’ tacos just didn’t sound like much fun at all.
I decided that I’d go old-school, and make some retro Mexican Stuffed Shells instead! I used to make these years and years ago and loved them! But as we become better cooks, the original ingredients I used to use just weren’t going to cut it. Not by a LONG shot!
I used to use a flour and sodium-laden, flavorless taco seasoning packet and bottled taco sauce. Hey, I was 19, what did I know back then?? Luckily, the cooking bug hit me big time and now I just make my own. So much better – – there’s no comparison.
I also used to use cream cheese in the meat filling, but since I had ricotta on hand, I went with that, and now I’ll never go back! 😀
So on to the recipe….
First, pleeeeaaaase don’t let the “long list” of ingredients scare you away from this. It’s mostly just plain seasonings is all. These are VERY easy to make! It starts with a basic homemade chunky taco sauce that turned out absolutely delicious that you don’t even have to cook! Just stir the seasonings into some tomato sauce and diced tomatoes, and it cooks when it bakes in the casserole! 😉
The beef filling is very handsomely spiced with my own taco seasoning blend – – no packets have entered my kitchens for more than 15 years! When you have to doctor them so much that you’re already practically making your own, you know it’s time to stop wasting your hard-earned money and just make it from scratch. 😉
The final addition of ricotta turned it into a lightly cheesy, creamy, dreamy filling that was impossible to stop nibbling! I had to fill the shells quickly, or there wasn’t going to be enough left! 😀
After baking, they all got topped with nice handfuls of Mexican blend cheese!! 😀 Add more than you think is “enough”, because this will melt down. Pile it on, don’t be shy with it! 😀
After topping with lots of yummy cheese, I used up some of the GAZILLION oven-roasted cherry and grape tomatoes that I had I my freezer from my never-ending summer garden for a nice extra punch of tomato flavor, along with some of the peppers that I had stashed in the freezer, too! This really added a nice layer of extra flavor!
Such warm, beautiful vibrant colors! And the aroma wafting through the house was nearly unbearable! Our tummies were growling like bears!
We didn’t let them cool long before we dug right in!! Though I didn’t take the time to get a plate shot, we were hungry!!, we added a nice, healthy dose of guacamole, sour cream, finely shredded lettuce and sliced black olives on top and this dish looked phenomenal! 😀
I served this with a simple new version of Mexican Rice and Beans that I’ll add to my blog soon, and supper was one to remember! But if you’d like my other recipe, you can find it here. One of the best Mexican-style meals we’ve had in awhile! I’m so glad that I went old-school all the way and didn’t cave to any bottled sauces. And the ricotta worked out even better than cream cheese ever did! You are really going to enjoy this!! 😀
So don’t wait for “Taco Tuesday” to make a pan of these lightly spicy, creamy, cheesy Mexican Stuffed Shells! Pick up the basics that you need and fix them for your family soon! 😀 They were truly muy bien!
Take care all, and I’ll see ya soon! ~Kelly
- For Chunky Taco Sauce:
- 1 (14.5 oz.) can Hunt's Fire-Roasted Diced Tomatoes
- 1 (15 oz.) can Hunt's Tomato Sauce
- 1 tsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp. cumin
- ½ tsp. paprika
- ½ tsp. garlic powder
- ½ tsp. sugar
- ¼ tsp. onion powder
- ¼ tsp. coarse ground black pepper
- ⅛ tsp. cayenne
- For Taco Meat Filling:
- 1 lb. lean ground beef
- 1 tsp. seasoned salt, I prefer Johnny's
- ¼ tsp. cayenne
- ½ tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 1 Tbl. cornstarch
- 1 Tbl. flour
- 1 Tbl. dried minced onion
- ¼ tsp. sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 tsp. Better Than Bouillon Beef Base
- 1 Tbl. sriracha hot sauce, or your own favorite hot sauce
- ½ cup thick ricotta cheese, I prefer Galbani Sorrento's Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese
- Rest of Ingredients:
- 18 jumbo pasta shells, I prefer Barilla (they don't fall apart)
- 2 cups (or more) shredded Mexican Blend cheese, I prefer Sargento's
- pepper rings of choice, (banana, pepperoncini, green bell, jalapeño, etc.)
- oven roasted grape tomato halves, or fresh sliced
- sour cream
- finely shredded lettuce
- sliced black olives
- In 4-cup measuring pitcher, stir together chunky taco sauce ingredients until well mixed. Set aside.
- In large frying pan, sauté ground beef, breaking up fairly finely as you go, until done. Drain grease if needed.
- In small bowl, stir together dry seasonings for meat filling. Sprinkle over cooked beef. Stir in well.
- Drizzle with water and add bouillon and sriracha. Bring to a simmer and simmer, stirring as needed, until very thick. Stir in ricotta. Remove from heat and cover.
- Bring a small pot of water to a boil with a small palmful of kosher salt, (about a ½ Tbl.), and boil shells gently until al dente according to the box.
- Spray a 13x9 pan with no-stick spray, and pour half of the taco sauce on the bottom.
- Fill shells with the meat filling. (This is easy to do if you hold a shell in your hand with ends pointing towards fingertips and wrist, then gently squeeze to pop open.) Place filled shells into sauced baking dish. Drizzle shells with rest of sauce. Cover with foil.
- Pop into preheated 350º oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and top with lots of Mexican Blend cheese. Top each with pepper rings and roasted tomatoes if desired. Bake again, uncovered, until cheese has melted, about 10 more minutes.
- To serve, place shells onto dinner plate, top with sour cream, guacamole, finely shredded lettuce and black olives. Serve more hot sauce at the table for those who want an extra kick of heat.
**You can top your shells however you like, this is just how we enjoyed ours.