These deconstructed stuffed shells are heavily inspired by my mother-in-law. She makes traditional shells stuffed with ground turkey, cheese, ricotta, and a well-seasoned sauce. While I still enjoy the traditional version from time to time, I adore this meatless option. Oh, and don’t worry—you can always change things up by adding ground turkey or beef to the sauce for an even heartier dish.–Shanika Graham-White

Shells with Ricotta and Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce FAQs

What can I substitute for canned fire-roasted tomatoes?

You can always use regular diced tomatoes and just skip the fire-roasted part if you don’t mind missing the smoky, charred flavor. However, you can always add a pinch of smoked paprika to your regular diced tomatoes as the fire-roasted kind often has added spices, as well as smokiness.

Can I roast my own tomatoes?

Of course, you can! You’ll need 5 to 6 Roma tomatoes for this recipe. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Slick the pan with oil. Grill the tomatoes, using tongs to turn them frequently, until lightly blackened all over, about 20 minutes. You can also do it over a gas flame. Using tongs, hold one tomato at a time over the flame, turning until blackened. Let cool, peel, and use as you would canned tomatoes.

Shells with ricotta and fire-roasted tomato sauce on a white plate with a fork, beside a pan of shells, a clove of garlic, parmesan, and a tomato.

Shells with Ricotta and Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce

5 / 2 votes
Since this recipe isn’t loaded with cheese, you’re able to enjoy the fire-roasted flavor as well as the lightness of the lemon-ricotta mixture. This recipe makes for such an easy weeknight meal that everyone is guaranteed to enjoy.
David Leite
Servings4 servings
Calories603 kcal
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time30 minutes
Total Time45 minutes


  • Fine sea salt
  • 1 pound jumbo pasta shells
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley, plus more for topping, if desired
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, or 2 teaspoons dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 can (6 ounce) store-bought or homemade tomato paste
  • 1 can (14 ounce) diced fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, plus more for topping, if desired
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup skim-milk ricotta cheese, whisked until whipped
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons juice), preferably organic
  • Shaved Parmesan cheese, for topping (optional)


  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions. Drain in a , reserving 1 cup of pasta water.
  • In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic, parsley, oregano, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes. Sauté until the garlic begins to become fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and add the fire-roasted tomatoes, juices, and all, as well as the reserved pasta water.
  • Stir in the chopped basil and season with 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Stir and allow to simmer, scraping the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon occasionally, until the sauce begins to thicken, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the pasta shells and mix until the shells are evenly coated. Turn off the heat.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the ricotta, lemon zest and juice, and a sprinkle of salt.
  • Divvy the whipped ricotta mixture between four shallow bowls and spoon the pasta on top. Top with dried parsley, shaved Parmesan, and/or chopped fresh basil leaves, if desired.
Orchids and Sweet Tea

Adapted From

Orchids and Sweet Tea

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Serving: 1 servingCalories: 603 kcalCarbohydrates: 105 gProtein: 23 gFat: 9 gSaturated Fat: 1 gMonounsaturated Fat: 5 gCholesterol: 10 mgSodium: 564 mgFiber: 7 gSugar: 13 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2021 Shanika Graham-White. Photo © 2021 Shanika Graham-White. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This shells with ricotta and fire-roasted tomato sauce is essentially a one-pot pasta dish although I did have to cook the shells in a different pot. I thought the sauce had a lovely thickness and flavor with the fresh basil and the dried seasonings (I used both dried oregano and parsley).

I liked that you could control the amount of cheese by portioning it in the bottom of the bowl and the addition of the lemon zest and juice was bright and appealing. All in all, this is a great weekday dinner dish!

This shells with ricotta and fire-roasted tomato sauce is a perfect recipe for a family dinner meal. Very easy to prepare and delicious.

Before plating, I decided to mix a little bit of the sauce (about a cup) with the shells, so in that way, it could be all covered with that delicious sauce. The balance of flavors with the ricotta mix, the lemon zest, and juice with roasted tomatoes was divine.

I took one portion for my lunch the next day to work and the flavors were even more mouthwatering!

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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