This taco stuffed shells recipe is a fantastic twist for Taco Tuesday! Here we've got perfectly seasoned ground beef in jumbo shells with loads of juicy salsa and melty cheese.
Why you need to try them
I love taco night as much as the next person, and sometimes it's fun to change it up. That's where these cheesy taco stuffed shells come in! They're a creative hybrid recipe that's comforting and flavorful and totally straightforward to make, even ahead of time.
With uncomplicated, inexpensive ingredients and only 10 minutes of prep, you'll have a piping hot Tex-Mex meal on the table for your whole family in no time. I love loading up these easy taco stuffed shells with tons of fresh toppings.
What you'll need
- Pasta - we're using jumbo shells. They're found in the dry pasta aisle.
- Olive oil - for sautéing
- Onion and garlic - our tasty aromatics. I like sweet (Vidalia) onion best, but use any variety. To mince the garlic, this garlic press makes it hassle free.
- Ground beef - extra lean is best here. I like 90% lean
- Chili powder, smoked paprika, ground cumin - my easy taco seasoning. If you don't have the individual spices, you can use a packet of taco seasoning, but keep in mind it might be salty if that's a consideration.
- Salsa - grab a jar of your favorite brand. I like Newman's Own.
- Sour cream - it adds a bit of moisture as well as tangy flavor to the beef mixture
- Tex-Mex cheese - it typically contains Monterey Jack, cheddar, mozzarella, and sometimes other cheeses like queso quesadilla
- Some of our favorites include cilantro, avocado or guacamole, chopped scallions or red onion, shredded lettuce, fresh tomatoes, Doritos or Fritos, and even more sour cream. You could do a squeeze of fresh lime juice too.
- If you serve the toppings separately in individual bowls, everyone can customize how to top their shells for a fun family meal, taco style!
How to make taco stuffed shells
This is an overview, and full ingredients & instructions are in the recipe card below.
- Boil up the pasta shells. While they're cooking, sauté the onion and garlic. Once golden, add in the ground beef, chili powder, smoked paprika, and cumin, and cook until the beef is cooked through. Remove from the heat, and stir in half the cheese and some sour cream to complete the filling.
- Preheat the oven. Pour the salsa into the bottom of a greased 9x13 baking dish, and use a small spoon to stuff the cooked and drained shells.
- Once you've arranged the shells in the casserole dish, top them with the rest of the cheese, and bake until melty. Broiled for a few minutes if desired. Add the toppings and enjoy!
Can you make stuffed shells ahead of time?
- You bet! For the fridge, assemble them up to the step prior to baking and cover tightly with aluminum foil or a lid. Refrigerate for up to 2 days ahead of when you'd like to bake them.
- For the freezer, assemble and cover it tightly and freeze for up to 3 months. When you're ready, make sure to let the casserole dish warm up on the counter before putting it in the oven so it doesn't crack. Add on additional baking time, and be sure to check the shells are nice and melty and hot before serving. Also, you can let it thaw in the fridge overnight and then cook the next day no problem.
- If you're making several, try these disposable aluminum baking dishes with lids for potlucks and other occasions.
- It's always a good idea to cook a few extra shells in case some break.
- I found this recipe to have plenty of sauce, especially since I like to add extra sour cream when serving, but you can always use a larger jar of salsa if you wish!
Substitutions and variations
- I used a Tex-Mex cheese blend, but feel free to use a different blend or just cheddar.
- Want this recipe to be spicy? Use a hot salsa or stir some red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, or hot sauce into the ground beef mixture as you're cooking it.
- Ground turkey, ground pork, or even sausage meat would work in place of the ground beef if that's your thing.
- You could add cream cheese instead of sour cream to the beef mixture if that's all you've got on hand. It'll also deliver that tangy quality.
- Simply swap the beef for a few cans of black beans if you want to make this vegetarian.
Leftovers and storage
- Leftovers will keep for 3-4 days in the refrigerator. Just make sure they're in an airtight container for maximum freshness.
- Reheat them in the microwave, or you could pop them back in the oven with a low temperature until warmed through.
- I don't recommend freezing these after cooking. The pasta will lose its firmness.
Questions about these cheesy stuffed shells? Let me know in the comments below! And tag me #saltandlavender on Instagram if you've made one of my recipes.
Taco Stuffed Shells
- 2 dozen uncooked jumbo shells
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 medium onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 pound extra lean ground beef
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 (14.5 ounce) jar salsa
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1.5 cups Tex-Mex cheese blend divided
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Garnish: cilantro, avocado, scallions, tomatoes, sour cream, etc. optional, to taste
- Boil a large, salted pot of water for the jumbo shells. Cook them al dente according to package directions.
- Add the oil and onion to a skillet over medium-high heat and sauté for 4-5 minutes or until the onion is just starting to lightly brown.
- Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
- Add in the ground beef, chili powder, smoked paprika, and cumin. Cook, breaking up the beef with your spoon as you go along, until the beef is browned and cooked through (about 8 minutes). If there's lots of excess fat, spoon most of it out.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375F and move the rack to the top third of the oven. Grease a 9x13 baking dish and spread the salsa in an even layer on the bottom.
- Take the skillet off the heat and stir in the sour cream and half the cheese (stir until it's evenly melted in). Season with salt & pepper as needed.
- Rinse the shells under cool water and drain them thoroughly. To stuff the shells, take a small spoon and add the mixture into each shell. You should be able to stuff them fairly full. I add them to the baking dish one at a time as I go along.
- Top the shells with the remaining cheese.
- Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. You can then broil them for a few minutes to brown the cheese if you wish. Note: you can cover the baking dish with foil prior to baking if you like. I like to have some crispy bits, but if you want it all to be softer, I suggest doing that (take the foil off to broil, though).
- Prep the toppings while the shells are baking.
- You can top the shells while they're still in the baking dish or serve them and then top each plate as desired.
- Use your favorite brand of salsa. I used Newman's Own. You can use a larger jar if you want even more sauce.
- This recipe makes approximately 24 shells depending on how many you're actually able to fit into your baking dish.
- Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy only and should be construed as an estimate rather than a guarantee. Ingredients can vary and Salt & Lavender makes no guarantees to the accuracy of this information.