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Nostalgia, flavor, and ease all in one pot! I know you will all love this One-Pot Italian Shells and Cheese!

Cooked pasta, sauce and beef in cast iron skillet surrounded by cups and plates.

The one-pot pastas on my site are some of my most popular, weeknight recipes. And for good reason! Especially when school starts back up and calendars start to fill, it’s nice to have an option you can get on the table in less than 45 minutes.

Three brown stone plates filled with cooked pasta.

This particular recipes is a riff on Hamburger Helper’s “Italian Shells & Cheese” and the classic Hamburger Helper I developed a few years ago. This time, I added Italian sausage, cheddar, and ricotta for an extra creamy twist. I’m sure your family will love this take on the classic, All-American go-to.

Cooked ground beef in black cast iron skillet with spoon in it.

step one: brown the sausage

To kick this recipe off, in your large pot saute the garlic and onions. Next, add the mild (or hot) Italian sausage and cook until nicely browned.

step two: season the sausage

Italian sausage already has great flavor, but there is a lot of pasta and sauce in this dish so I like to add more seasonings to make sure there is flavor packed in ever bite. Once your seasonings are added and lightly toasted, you will continue to get the sauce started with tomato paste.

Black cast iron skillet filled with browned ground beef, dry pasta shells, red sauce and broth pouring in.

step three: create sauce and begin cooking the pasta

Next, you’ll add the red wine vinegar, beef broth, tomato sauce, and pasta to the pot. You may be thinking, “Red wine vinegar? Huh?” But, the vinegar just helps to bring a brightness to the dish and amplify the flavors. Just trust me! Once your ingredients are combined, follow the steps below until the pasta is cooked just right.

Cook ground beef, pasta, and red sauce in cast iron skillet with cheese being stirred in with spoon.

step four: remove from heat and add the final ingredients!

Now that the pasta is cooked, remove from heat and mix in the ricotta and cheddar cheese. The pasta will be hot enough to melt the cheeses, but if needed, you can put it over low heat. Once combined, taste and adjust the salt to our preference then garnish with more cheddar cheese and parsley.

Three plates filled with cooked pasta with forks surrounded by cups and napkins.

I can’t wait to hear what you think about this One-Pot Italian Shells and Cheese — I know y’all will enjoy it.

Looking for another classic you and your kiddos will love? Be sure to try my One-Pot “Yummy Pasta!”

Three brown stone plates filled with cooked pasta.
5 from 17 votes

One-Pot Italian Shells and Cheese

Gluten-Free (if modified)
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 22 minutes
Total: 35 minutes
Servings: 5


  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup finely-diced yellow onion about 1 small onion
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 pound mild Italian sausage sub spicy if preferred
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes optional
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 1/2 cups low-sodium beef broth
  • One 14.5-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 12 ounces dried shells pasta I use Jovial Brown Rice for gluten-free
  • ½ cup whole milk ricotta at room temperature *see note
  • ½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese plus more for serving

For Serving:

  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley


  • Heat a large, deep-sided skillet or pot over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes. Add in sausage and sauté, breaking up the meat with the back of a wooden spoon, until the sausage is cooked through and no longer pink, about 7 minutes. Drain off excess fat if necessary (I like to keep at least 2 tablespoons in there for added flavor) and return to the pan.
  • To the meat, season with salt, onion powder, dried oregano, black pepper, and red pepper flakes (if using). Stir to combine and cook over medium-high for about 2 minutes, allowing the spices to lightly toast. Add in the tomato paste and stir to combine, cooking for an additional 1 minute, or until the paste has totally melted in and combined with the meat.
  • Pour in the red wine vinegar, beef broth, tomato sauce, and pasta. Stir to combine. Bring contents in the pot to a boil and once boiling, reduce the heat to a very subtle simmer, and let cook until pasta is tender, stirring often, until most of the liquid has absorbed and the pasta is al dente, 13 to 15 minutes.
  • Once the pasta is cooked, remove skillet from heat and stir in the ricotta and cheddar cheese until combined and melted. Taste and add more salt, if desired. Garnish with fresh parsley and extra cheddar. Enjoy!


*For the ricotta, it works best to keep it at room temperature so that it doesn’t seize when it is added to the hot pasta. I simply set mine out on the counter so that it can come to room temp while I am making the pasta and it does the trick! If you forgot to do this- I recommend omitting the ricotta part. It’s fabulous without it! 

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

Additional Info

Servings: 5

Photography by Eat Love Eats.

Welcome! I’m Alex.

I’m a food lover sharing healthy, simple, delicious, recipes from my kitchen to yours. Here you’ll find lots of Whole30, lots of healthy, and a little indulgence here and there because…it’s all about balance y’all!

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    I’ve now made both the classic hamburger helper and this one. Love both of them but love the sausage in this one! Definitely follow the tip for the ricotta to leave it out to get to room temp, my sauce did not turn out grainy.

    I can’t wait to add this to my rotation!

  2. Hi! I made this tonight and it was wonderful! Does it freeze well? Currently on the hunt for dishes that freeze well in preparation for a new baby!

  3. Super tasty but wish I hadn’t added the ricotta. It turned the sauce really grainy. I think the recipe would have been perfectly fine without it, so next time I make I will just omit that.

  4. 5 stars
    Delicious! Made this tonight and it was a hit with the whole family. I used medium cheddar (it’s what I had) and worked out well. Thanks for another fantastic recipe, Alex!

  5. 5 stars
    This was so tasty! My sauce turned out a little grainy – what did I do wrong? Should I let the cottage cheese melt more over low heat?

    1. 5 stars
      My ricotta did the same thing. It looked like a broken sauce as soon as I added it. No idea why it happened but it was still delicious

  6. 5 stars
    I cant wait to make this! Obsessed with the OG hamburger helper recipe and I know this will be a hit too! I was wondering- could I swap ground beef for the sausage? If so, would you double the seasonings for the meat?

      1. I made this with ground beef and added a half of the seasonings, delicious! I like it a tad bit better with the sausage personally. And would opt for Alex’s classic hamburger helper if using ground beef, but that is just my preference!