Taco Stuffed Shells are a family favorite that’s simple enough to make for a weeknight dinner. Pasta shells are loaded with seasoned ground beef, veggies, beans, and lots of cheese, then topped with your favorite enchilada sauce. 10 ingredients, with only 15 minutes of active time!
If you’ve only had the kind of stuffed shells that are filled with ricotta and topped with marinara, it’s time to branch out and make your stuffed shells Tex-Mex style! This recipe for Taco Stuffed Shells is a new twist on taco night that stuffs the seasoned ground beef into jumbo pasta shells instead of taco shells. Whoa.
You only need 10 ingredients to make these Taco Stuffed Shells, and just 15 minutes of actual work on your part—the rest of the time is hands-off. From start to finish, dinner’s done in 45 minutes, which is less time than it would take to order delivery from your favorite Mexican restaurant!
Just like with regular stuffed shells, there’s a lot of room for customization and variations with Taco Stuffed Shells, so feel free to switch things up with your favorite ingredients. I have some suggestions below, too.
What You’ll Need
Scroll down to the recipe card below this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.
- Jumbo pasta shells – You’ll need about half a box.
- Lean ground beef – If you prefer ground turkey, go for it! And you can make these Taco Stuffed Shells vegetarian by using your favorite plant-based ground.
- Green bell pepper
- Yellow onion
- Green chiles – These come in mild or spicy varieties, so use whichever your family prefers.
- Taco seasoning – Store-bought or homemade taco seasoning both work, but I recommend homemade, as store-bought can be really salty, especially when paired with a store-bought enchilada sauce and cheese.
- Cream cheese – Let this come to room temperature.
- Kidney beans – Or use black beans.
- Red enchilada sauce
- Pepper jack cheese – Cheddar or Monterrey jack work, too.
- Optional toppings – Chopped cilantro, sour cream, sliced green onions, salsa, etc.
How Do You Keep Pasta Shells from Breaking?
It’s definitely annoying when you boil jumbo pasta shells to make stuffed shells and a third of them end up torn and broken! There are a few things you can do here.
First, make sure you cook the shells al dente—very al dente. (Lidia Bastianich recommends a cook time of 7 minutes.) Then, instead of pouring the contents of the pot into a colander, gently remove the shells from the cooking water with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking before draining them in a colander.
Another option? Hedge your bets and add a few extra shells to the pot.
How to Make Taco Stuffed Shells
If you like to get a head start on your weeknight dinners, you can make the filling the night before, or even assemble the entire recipe a day ahead of time and then pop it in the oven the next day.
Prepare. Preheat your oven to 350°F and cook the pasta shells.
Cook the beef and veggies. Set a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef, bell peppers, and onions and cook until the beef is no longer pink and the veggies are soft. Drain off any excess grease.
Finish the filling. Add the green chiles, taco seasoning, cream cheese, and ½ cup of the shredded cheese. Once the cheese melts, fold in the beans.
Assemble. Spread half of the enchilada sauce in the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish. Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of the filling into each pasta shell, then place the shells seam-side-down in the pan. Pour the remaining sauce over the tops, then add the remaining cheese.
Bake. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Then, remove the foil and bake for 10 minutes more, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
Cool and serve. Let the Taco Stuffed Shells cool for 10 minutes, then add your favorite toppings and serve.
Tips for Success
These hints and tips will help you make sure your Taco Stuffed Shells turn out perfect!
- Use full-fat cream cheese from the block. Not reduced fat, and not the kind of cream cheese that comes in tubs! While some varieties of lower-fat cream cheese are almost indistinguishable from the real stuff, others have a grainy texture when melted and you don’t want that in your stuffed shells.
- Shred your own cheese. The pre-shredded cheese that comes in bags has an anti-caking agent added to it, which means it doesn’t melt as smooth. It’s always worth it to shred your own cheese.
- Bake them seam-side-down (really). I know that’s not typical for a stuffed shell recipe, but it will help keep the filling from drying out!
If you want to round out your Taco Stuffed Shells dinner, serve them with esquites (like Mexican street corn, but off-the-cob) or your favorite steamed or roasted veggie.
A simple salad dressed with a zippy lime vinaigrette works well too, or cut a watermelon into chunks, squeeze lime juice over it, and top it with crumbled queso fresco and chopped cilantro for a simple fruit salad that pairs well with any Tex-Mex dish.
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
Store leftover Taco Stuffed Shells in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Reheat them in the microwave or cover them with foil and bake them in a 350ºF oven until they’re warmed through.
Can This Recipe Be Frozen?
Yes, you can freeze this recipe either before or after baking the shells. Either way, it will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months when wrapped well.
If you’ve frozen the stuffed shells before baking them, let them thaw in the refrigerator, then bake them in the oven according to the recipe instructions. If they’re already baked, thaw them in the fridge and microwave them or reheat them in the oven, covered, until they’re warmed through.
Taco Stuffed Shells
- 6 ounces jumbo pasta shells (½ box of shells)
- ½ pound lean ground beef
- ½ medium green bell pepper chopped
- ½ medium yellow onion chopped
- 1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles
- 2 Tablespoons taco seasoning
- 2 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
- ¾ cup canned kidney beans drained and rinsed
- 1 (10-ounce) can red enchilada sauce
- 1 ½ cups shredded pepper jack cheese, divided
- Optional toppings: chopped cilantro, sour cream, sliced green onions, salsa
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Cook pasta shells according to package, drain and set aside.
- While your pasta is cooking, in a large frying pan over medium-high heat, sauté ground beef, bell peppers and onions until cooked through. The beef should no longer be pink and the onions and peppers should be soft. Drain any excess grease from the beef and return the pan to stove top.
- Add in green chiles, taco seasoning, cream cheese and ½ cup shredded cheese. Once cheese has melted, gently stir in the beans.
- Place half of the enchilada sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch pan. Fill each shell with 1-2 tablespoons of meat mixture. Place the shells, seam side down, in the pan. Pour remaining sauce over the top of the shells. Top with remaining cheese.
- Bake, covered with foil, for 15 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.
- Top with cilantro, sour cream, sliced green onions or salsa.
- You can substitute black beans for the kidney beans if you do not have them in your pantry.
- Storage: Store leftover Taco Stuffed Shells in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Reheat them in the microwave or cover them with foil and bake them in a 350ºF oven until they’re warmed through.