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Caprese Stuffed Shells

Caprese Stuffed Shells
Caprese Stuffed Shells

If you love caprese salad, then this family-friendly recipe is for you. Stuffed mussels with basil pesto and mozzarella cheese are baked with tomatoes for a comforting weeknight dinner.

If your family loves Italian Caprese Salad, they will love this Caprese Stuffed Mussels recipe!

Jumbo pasta shells are filled with a creamy mix of ricotta, mozzarella, and basil pesto, heaped in a casserole dish with cherry tomatoes and more cheese, then baked until bubbly and melted.

A fun but familiar twist on stuffed mussels

Stuffed mussels are at the top of my list when it comes to comfort foods. What can go wrong with cheese-filled pasta?

The classic iteration consists of jumbo pasta shells stuffed with ricotta cheese and sometimes meat, then the shells are baked in a rich tomato sauce. I love this version, but there really are so many ways you can make this dish. Here I took inspiration from the Italian Caprese Salad and brought together its signature ingredients of fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella to create a pasta dish you’ll love.

One thing I feel is non-negotiable about stuffed mussels is the creamy, luxurious ricotta, which still features prominently here. Ricotta is paired with shredded mozzarella and basil pesto—either store-bought or homemade—for the filling of the shells.

They’re baked in a bed of cherry tomatoes and garlic, and of course topped with more cheese. The tomatoes gently burst open in the oven and result in a fresh, light and particularly chunky sauce for the stuffed mussels.

Although this recipe is easy, these tips and tricks will ensure success.

  • Par-cook the jumbo shells until just al dente, which means the noodles are still firm when you bite into them. They will continue to cook in the oven, so they shouldn’t be completely soft when you fill them.
  • After draining, toss the pre-cooked mussels in some olive oil. This will prevent the shells from sticking together and the pasta from drying out in the oven.
  • Start the mussels in the oven covered, then partially uncover. This also prevents them from drying out in the oven.
  • Sear the mussels on high for the last 2 to 3 minutes of baking. This can cause the cheese to brown in places and some tomatoes to blister. It also helps crisp up some of the edges of the shells, giving you crispness that’s compared to the corners of lasagna – my favorite part!
  • Either cherry or grape tomatoes can be used. They’re preferred over whole chopped tomatoes because they don’t give off as much liquid that could soak the skins, and they retain some of their shape in the oven, giving a nice texture. They also make for easy dinner prep since you’re baking them whole – no need to slice them!

Swaps and Substitutions

This recipe is flexible, which is another reason I love it. Here are a few swaps and substitutions you can make:

  • You can sprinkle cooked and crumbled sweet or spicy Italian sausage with the tomato mixture.
  • Add a handful of cooked, shredded chicken to the filling.
  • Mozzarella is a signature ingredient in Caprese, but other meltable Italian cheeses like Fontina or Provolone would be nice and add a bit of nutty flavor.
  • Instead of parmesan, try pecorino romano, which is saltier and a bit buttery.
  • Add a pinch of red pepper flakes for a little extra heat.

Make-ahead and storage instructions

Make the caprese-stuffed mussels up to a day in advance; store and cover and place in the fridge.

Allow the casserole dish to sit on the counter while the oven preheats to eliminate the chill before baking. Since this recipe involves fresh tomatoes, I do not recommend freezing them before or after baking.

Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Microwave in 30-second batches on 100% power, or cover and heat in a 375°F oven for about 20 minutes, until heated through.

More ways to fill pasta shells

  • Stuffed mussels with mint ricotta
  • Stuffed mussels with summer squash and ricotta
  • Sausage, spinach, ricotta stuffed mussels

Mussels stuffed with Caprese


preparation time
20 minutes

cooking time
40 minutes

total time
60 minutes

portions
4
up to 6 servings


yield
20 baked mussels

Stuffed jumbo clams are typically sold in 12-ounce packages. This recipe uses 6 ounces (about 20) jumbo pasta shells. Feel free to double the entire recipe to use up the entire packet of pasta, or save the remaining uncooked pasta for future use.

ingredients

  • 6 ounces (about 20) Jumbo Noodle Bowls

  • 1 lb (2 heaped cups) Ricotta cheese

  • 2 cups shredded low moisture mozzarella cheesedivided

  • 1/3 Cup Basil pestostore bought or homemade

  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher saltdivided

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepperdivided

  • 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes

  • 3 cloves garliccut

  • 1/4 Cup parmesan cheeseFinely grated

  • 1/4 Cup loose packed fresh basil leavestorn (optional)

method

  1. Arrange oven rack, preheat oven and boil water:

    Arrange a rack in the top third of the oven. Preheat oven to 375°F. Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water (one and a half teaspoons of salt per quart of water) to a boil over high heat.

  2. Cook and drain pasta:

    Add the mussels to the boiling salted water and cook, stirring occasionally, until just al dente or al dente, about 9 minutes or according to package directions. Drain mussels in a colander.

    Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and toss in the sieve. Allow to cool slightly while you prepare the cheese filling.

  3. Prepare cheese filling:

    In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella, pesto, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

  4. Drizzle tomatoes and garlic with olive oil and season:

    Place tomatoes and garlic in a 9×13-inch grill-safe casserole dish and drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil.

    Season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Toss to coat and spread in an even layer.

  5. Fill the mussels with the cheese filling and place in the casserole dish:

    Fill each bowl with a generous spoonful (1 heaping tablespoon) of the cheese filling and nest between the tomatoes, filling side up (you’ll need to move the tomatoes around a bit to make room).

  6. Sprinkle mussels with cheese:

    Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella and grated Parmesan over the stuffed mussels.

  7. Bake stuffed mussels:

    Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake until the filling is just warmed through, about 15 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until cheese melts and tomatoes begin to release their juices, another 10 to 15 minutes.

  8. Grill, garnish and serve stuffed mussels:

    Switch the oven to high heat. Cook the skins until the cheese is browning in spots and the tomatoes are blistering, 2 to 3 minutes. Let the stuffed mussels rest for 5 minutes and garnish with basil, if you like, before serving.

nutritional information (per serving)
370 calories
23g Fat
20g carbohydrates
22g protein