Pasta Shells with Ground Beef is a classic Italian-American dish that combines tender pasta shells with savory ground beef, all smothered in a rich tomato sauce and topped with melted cheese. It’s a hearty and satisfying meal that’s perfect for feeding a hungry family or hosting a casual dinner with friends. This recipe will guide you through creating a delicious and comforting dish that’s sure to become a favorite in your kitchen.


For the Pasta:

  • 16 ounces pasta shells (medium-sized)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt, for pasta water

For the Ground Beef Sauce:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (adjust to taste)
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped (for garnish)

For the Cheese Topping:

  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese


Cooking the Pasta:

  1. In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Season generously with salt.
  2. Add the pasta shells and cook according to the package instructions until al dente.
  3. Drain the pasta and toss it with 1 tablespoon of olive oil to prevent sticking. Set it aside.

Preparing the Ground Beef Sauce:

  1. In a large skillet or frying pan, cook the ground beef over medium-high heat until it’s browned and crumbled. Use a spoon to break apart the meat as it cooks. Drain any excess fat if necessary.
  2. Add the finely chopped onion to the skillet with the cooked ground beef. Sauté for 3-4 minutes, or until the onion becomes translucent.
  3. Stir in the minced garlic and cook for an additional 30 seconds to 1 minute, until fragrant.
  4. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, dried oregano, dried basil, and red pepper flakes to the skillet. Stir well to combine.
  5. Season the sauce with salt and black pepper to taste. Allow it to simmer for about 10-15 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally, to allow the flavors to meld.

Assembling the Dish:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C).
  2. In a large ovenproof baking dish, spread a thin layer of the ground beef sauce to coat the bottom.
  3. Add half of the cooked pasta shells on top of the sauce.
  4. Spoon half of the remaining sauce over the pasta shells.
  5. Sprinkle 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese evenly over the sauce.
  6. Repeat the layers with the remaining pasta shells, sauce, and cheeses.

Baking and Serving:

  1. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake in the preheated oven for about 20-25 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
  2. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, or until the top is golden and slightly crispy.
  3. Once done, remove from the oven and let it rest for a few minutes.
  4. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley before serving.

Variations and Tips

  • Vegetarian Option: You can make a delicious vegetarian version by replacing the ground beef with cooked lentils or crumbled tofu seasoned with your favorite spices.
  • Cheese Choices: Experiment with different cheese varieties like cheddar, provolone, or Monterey Jack for a unique flavor profile.
  • Veggie Boost: Boost the nutritional content by adding diced bell peppers, zucchini, or spinach to the sauce.
  • Spice Level: Adjust the red pepper flakes to your preferred level of spiciness. You can omit them for a milder dish or increase for extra heat.
  • Make-Ahead: Assemble the dish in advance and refrigerate it until you’re ready to bake. Allow it to come to room temperature before placing it in the oven.
  • Leftovers: This dish reheats well and makes for delicious leftovers. Simply reheat in the microwave or oven.


Pasta Shells with Ground Beef is a hearty and satisfying Italian-inspired dish that brings together pasta, savory ground beef, and a rich tomato sauce, all crowned with a layer of melted cheese. It’s a comforting meal that’s perfect for gatherings or weeknight dinners when you’re craving something delicious and filling. So, serve up a portion, savor the flavors, and enjoy the warmth of this classic dish that’s sure to become a family favorite. Buon appetito!

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