Creamy Shells and Beef is an easy ground beef pasta recipe in creamy tomato sauce. Cheesy beef and shells is an easy recipe for busy weeknights and delicious comfort food the whole family loves!
I have been making this easy creamy beef and shells recipe for over 6 years. This delicious recipe is a family favorite and reader favorite, and it's a personal favorite, too! I've updated the original post with newer photos and cooking tips to make this easy dinner even easier!
I love easy ground beef pasta recipes like spaghetti and meat sauce, creamy chicken pasta and ground beef stroganoff. These easy ground beef recipes are pretty much necessary for our survival and basically homemade hamburger helper!
Even my picky eaters love when I make creamy one pot shells and beef! Best of all, you only have one pot to clean!
That's what's so great about one dish meals. You don't need to put a lot of time or effort into dinner, but everyone is fed and happy, and you feel like Super Mom, even when you're exhausted.
You only need a few simple ingredients for this creamy ground beef pasta recipe. Look for them in your grocery store or online.
- ground beef -- use extra lean ground beef if you can so you don't have to drain the grease
- olive oil
- yellow onion or white onion -- chopped
- garlic -- chopped
- sea salt
- ground black pepper
- marinara sauce -- or pasta sauce, tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
- shell pasta -- uncooked pasta shells. Use your favorite pasta if needed. Penne pasta and rigatoni work well.
- Italian seasoning mix
- heavy cream -- or half and half to make creamy pasta
- Parmesan cheese -- for cheesy pasta
How to Make Creamy Beef and Shells in One Pot
First, cook the ground meat and a chopped onion in a large skillet or Dutch oven on medium heat. If you have a lot of grease and need to drain it, do that first, and then season the beef.
Next, add your seasonings to the meat, and cook until no longer pink.
Then, add your pasta shells, marinara sauce and water. Give it a good stir.
When you add the water, it will be very soupy. But, as the pasta cooks, it will absorb all of that liquid, so don't panic!
Cover the pot until it comes to a boil, then remove the lid, stir and keep an eye on it. You'll need to stir every so often so that the pasta doesn't stick.
When the liquid starts to reduce, and the pasta shells are almost done, stir in your heavy cream. Then, stir in the Parmesan cheese.
This delicious creamy shells and beef will continue to thicken as it cools, so if it seems a little thin, don't worry.
Believe me, I've been making this cheesy ground beef pasta for years now, and it turns out perfect every time!
Total cooking time for this hearty meal is around 20 - 25 minutes. It takes about 5 to 6 minutes to cook the ground beef and about 10 minutes for the pasta to cook.
You also want to allow a little time for the pasta to thicken.
You can see how rich and creamy the pasta is. The shells hold that creamy rich tomato sauce and ground beef so that every bite is filled with amazing flavor!
As soon as you have al dente pasta, you're ready to eat! You can top the tender pasta shells with more Parmesan and fresh parsley for extra flavor.
How to Store
Refrigerate leftover pasta in an airtight container for up to 4 days. You can freeze leftovers from this one-pot meal for longer storage. We do this with great results!
You could make this creamy beef pasta recipe even easier by using dried onions, onion powder or garlic powder -- it's up to you. Throw in a pinch of red pepper flakes for more spice!
If you want to make this easy pasta dish with the entire box of pasta, use 3 cups of water or beef broth. You will also need a large jar of pasta sauce or diced tomatoes so the sauce isn't too water. See the recipe card for exact measurements.
Change the protein in this easy ground beef recipe -- use ground chicken or ground turkey or ground Italian sausage. You can change the cheese to cheddar cheese or American cheese for a different flavor.
If you have a pressure cooker, make Instant Pot Creamy Shells and Beef.
Pro tip - What really saves time is having chopped onions waiting in the freezer. If I cut a whole onion, I'll try to freeze half for later, and eventually, I'll have a nice stash of onions when I need them!
I'm happy to report that the whole family loved this creamy one-pot shells and beef. It's the ultimate comfort food!
I served a simple side salad and homemade garlic bread, which was just enough to make this easy weeknight dinner a complete meal.
Creamy Shells and Beef
- 1 ½ pounds fresh extra lean ground beef
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ cup yellow or white onion chopped
- 2 tablespoons garlic chopped
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 cups marinara sauce, pasta sauce, tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups medium shells uncooked (about ½ of a 1 pound box)
- 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning mix
- 1 cup heavy cream or half and half
- ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese optional
- In a large pot or skillet, saute the onions in olive oil until soft
- Add ground beef, and cook until brown
- Add the garlic, salt and pepper
- Stir in the tomato sauce, pasta and water
- Cover and bring to a boil, then remove lid, and cook for about 10 minutes or until pasta starts to soften
- Add the Italian seasoning, reduce heat to medium low, and stir in the cream
- Cook on low heat until sauce begins to thicken
- Add the Parmesan cheese, and serve
Nutrition information is estimated. Please do your own calculation to fit special diets.
I hope you enjoy this comforting pasta dish as much as we do. My entire family is crazy about it!
If you do make this easy dinner, please leave a star rating and/or comment.
For more easy pasta recipes and easy meals for families to enjoy around the dinner table, sign up for the weekly newsletter and follow along on social media.
This easy ground beef recipe was originally published in May 2016 and updated for pictures and cooking tips in 2022.
Delia D nilsen says
Made this meal. So simple and yummy. I added chopped asparagus and a pinch of chili flake. oh and I used elbow noodles, because that is what I had on hand. thank you.
I love the addition of chili flakes and asparagus! I'll have to try that. 🙂
The picture shows some green in the dish. Is that fresh basil or spinach?
It's actually chopped parsley, which is totally optional, but it adds a little color. 🙂
I made this tonight and it was a winner! I was a bit skeptical of adding the water and cooking the pasta with everything else, but it worked perfectly. Even my picky eater liked it...it’s going in the regular rotation.
That's wonderful, Annette! I'm happy to hear that your family liked it!
I don't see anywhere that you talk about draining the grease from the beef. Doesn't this make it oily?
Hi Sue. I use extra lean beef for one pot meals just so that I don't have to drain the fat. If you use beef with a higher fat content, I would definitely drain the excess fat.
Is the Italian seasoning mix the salad dressing one or dried herb seasoning? Sounds delicious!!
Hi, Cheree. It's just a mix of dried herbs that you can buy from any grocery store.
Just wanted to take a moment to let you know that I made this last night, and we really enjoyed it! Much better than a meal out of a box! I used penne pasta since I didn't have any shells. The half & half gave it that extra special creamy taste that everyone loves. Thanks for the recipe; I know it will be on my table again!
Thanks so much, Tonia. I'm glad you liked it! I made it the other day with penne since that's what I had, too! 🙂
This is awesome!! I added mushrooms and it is delicious
I'm so glad you liked it -- thanks! I love the idea of mushrooms, too. 🙂
Our family really liked this one!!--meryl
Thanks for letting me know, Meryl I'm happy to hear that!
Miz Helen says
Your recipe is in the TOP TEN features for this week on Full Plate Thursday. Enjoy your new Red Plate and your weekend!
Chelc | Inside the Fox Den says
Wow, this sounds amazing! I don't have shells at home, but I do have elbow macaroni and I'm definitely going to try this soon!
Thanks, Chelc! Macaroni would work well too. 🙂
Angie | Big Bears Wife says
We would totally be in love with this for dinner. I love easy 30 minute meals like this. I need dinner ideas like this to make after working at the office all day!
Thanks, Angie. I honestly don't know what I would do without one-pot meals!
Nutmeg Nanny says
This one pot dish looks fabulous! Love all that creamy goodness!
Thanks so much! We just had it again the other day. 🙂
Louise Williams says
I absolutely loved this post! Sunday is the day to innovate at lunch (since I don’t have any time for it during the week). Why not try this simple, fast and delicious recipe? Thanks for sharing!
Thanks so much, Louise. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do! 🙂
This looks so good! I think I will try this maybe with a beef substitute as we love beef but are tying to cut back. Great Pictures also.
Thanks so much, Susan. I would say whatever works best!
Melanie | Melanie Makes says
Love those large shells - creamy and dreamy comfort food!
Thanks, Melanie. The shells are perfect for holding in the sauce!
Maris (In Good Taste) says
Sounds like a perfect winter meal!
Susannah // Feast + West says
Love a good one-pot meal! This one looks like major comfort food. 🙂
Even though it's not baked or covered in cheese, I think it still is comfort food! 🙂
One-pot meals are the best! Easy to make and easy cleanup!
Definitely! These meals are really my sanity-savers some days. 🙂
Bintu | Recipes from a Pantry says
One pot meals are my fave and this reminds me of Hamburger Helper which is one of my favorite guilty pleasures 🙂
I grew up on Hamburger Helper, so I try to make the same thing without the extra stuff added. 🙂
Justine | Cooking and Beer says
I love one-pot meals! This looks so comforting!
Thanks! I think comfort food is appropriate all year round. 🙂