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This 30-minute creamy beef and shells recipe is simple to make. It’s a budget-friendly and comforting meal that has pasta in a tasty meat sauce with a hint of cream!

Try my Homemade Hamburger Helper recipe or One Pot Spaghetti next.

a bowl of creamy beef and shells pasta

Why you’ll love it

Beef and shells is the ultimate easy pasta recipe that feels like an upgrade when it’s actually hassle free to make with pantry ingredients. The ground beef and tomato sauce is rich and flavorful, and it reheats great. It’s a favorite with kids as well.

This pasta with a meat sauce is perfect for when you want something quick and cozy after a busy workday. It’s not fancy, but it sure tastes amazing! We’re using a couple of all-purpose seasonings, and the results are fantastic, kind of like a simple Bolognese.

What you’ll need

  • Shells – they’re great little pockets for the sauce
  • Olive oil – for sautéing
  • Onion and garlic – sweet (Vidalia) onions are my go-to here
  • Ground beef – I recommend using the leanest ground beef you can find because then you can skip the step of draining the fat
  • Chili powder – our savory seasoning. Make sure your chili powder is mild if heat is a concern.
  • Canned tomato sauce – it’s sometimes labelled as passata internationally
  • Beef broth – adds depth of flavor
  • Heavy cream – it’s a touch of luxuriousness
ingredients for creamy beef and shells in prep bowls

Tools for this recipe

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How to make beef and shells

This is an overview with step-by-step photos. Full ingredients & instructions are in the recipe card below.

sauteing ground beef and onions in a skillet and adding tomato sauce and seasonings

Cook the pasta al dente. Meanwhile, sauté the onion in the oil until golden. Add the beef, and cooked until browned. Drain any excess fat. Stir in the garlic and chili powder, then add the tomato sauce and broth.

adding cream to pasta sauce in a skillet and tossing with drained pasta

Give it a stir, and then simmer until reduced slightly. Stir in the cream, and add salt & pepper as needed. Warm it through, toss with the drained pasta, and top with chopped fresh parsley if desired.

Pro tip

Stir in a cup of grated cheddar towards the end of the cooking time if you want to make the sauce cheesy!

Substitutions and variations

  • You could leave the cream out if you really need to, but I do love the richer flavor it adds to this recipe. It’s a small amount. I wouldn’t use half-and-half, though, as the tomatoes may curdle it.
  • If you don’t have any shells on hand, you can definitely sub with a different kind of pasta with this meat sauce.
  • I have made this with 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder instead of using fresh garlic cloves.

What to serve with beef and shells

  • Readers enjoy adding toppings to this ground beef pasta like sour cream or a dollop of ricotta. I like fresh parsley or basil.
  • Round out the meal with a delicious salad. Try my popular 10-minute Caesar Dressing from scratch that doesn’t require a blender or this bright Creamy Cucumber Salad.
  • Pasta night is always made better with a big slice of Cheesy Garlic Bread or breadsticks.

Leftovers and storage

  • Store any leftovers in an airtight container for 3-4 days in the fridge.
  • Reheat in a saucepan over a low heat until warmed through. If needed, add a splash of cream or broth to perk up the sauce.
  • This sauce freezes well. I’d cook fresh pasta once you’re ready to eat, though.
closeup of a skillet with pasta in a creamy beef sauce

If you made this creamy beef and shells recipe, please leave a star rating and review below! Ask me any questions not answered above. Tag me on Instagram if you made any of my recipes.

a bowl of creamy beef and shells pasta
5 from 33 votes

Easy Creamy Beef and Shells

This 30-minute creamy beef and shells recipe is simple to make. It's a budget-friendly and comforting meal that has pasta in a tasty meat sauce with a hint of cream!
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Total: 30 minutes
Servings: 4


  • 8 ounces medium uncooked shells
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion chopped
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 (14 ounce) can tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup beef broth
  • 1/4 cup heavy/whipping cream
  • Salt & pepper to taste


  • Boil water for your pasta and cook it al dente according to package directions.
  • Meanwhile, in a skillet, sauté the onion in the olive oil for 5 minutes over medium heat (ok if it browns a little).
  • Add the beef to the pan and cook it until it's browned, breaking it up with your spoon as you go along (about 5 minutes). If there's a lot of excess fat, spoon most of it out.
  • Stir in the garlic and chili powder, then add the tomato sauce and beef broth. Give it a good stir and cook it for 4-5 minutes or so (reduce the heat so it's gently simmering). The sauce should reduce a bit, but don't let it go dry.
  • Stir in the cream and season with salt & pepper as needed. Let the cream warm through and then toss with the drained pasta shells. Serve immediately.


  • Serves 4-6 depending on how much people eat.


Calories: 481kcal, Carbohydrates: 50g, Protein: 34g, Fat: 16g, Saturated Fat: 7g, Cholesterol: 91mg, Sodium: 687mg, Potassium: 899mg, Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 6g, Vitamin A: 797IU, Vitamin C: 8mg, Calcium: 48mg, Iron: 5mg

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

© Salt & Lavender Inc. Content and photographs are copyrighted. Sharing this blog post is much appreciated, but copying and pasting full recipes without authorization to social media is strictly prohibited.

Leave a star rating and comment below!

This recipe was originally published on April 4, 2020. It’s been updated with new photos and better instructions but is the same great recipe!

Hi! I’m Natasha.

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  1. Stefanee says:

    5 stars
    This was so quick, easy and delicious. Made as written and will definitely make again!

    1. Natasha says:

      I’m thrilled to hear it!!

  2. Melissa says:

    5 stars
    Made this tonight and it was so delicious! Will be in my regular rotation.

    1. Natasha says:

      Yay!! Thanks, Melissa!

  3. Melinda says:

    5 stars
    Huge hit in my household! Used ground turkey instead of beef and it was so good!

    1. Natasha says:

      That’s awesome!! 😀 Thanks, Melinda!

  4. Samantha says:

    5 stars
    Love all of your recipes! They are so simple and easy to make, yet they are so delicious!

    1. Natasha says:

      Thank you so much, Samantha!! That is what I strive for! 😀 I appreciate your review. XO

  5. Cherise Thompson says:

    5 stars
    Another recipe hit with my family! What I love about her recipes is that majority of ingredients I always have on hand.

    1. Natasha says:

      Thank you so much, Cherise!! So happy this was a winner. Appreciate your review! 😀

  6. Doodlebug says:

    Own A use butter milk instead of heavy cream