What is Shell Pasta?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Shell pasta is a form of pasta which is molded in the shape of a shell. It is also known as conchiglie pasta, in a reference to the Italian word for “conch.” Shell pasta is a very common pasta shape, and it is readily available at most markets in a wide range of styles. Cooks can also made shell pasta at home with the assistance of an extruder for pasta shapes or a pasta mold. Since shell pasta is so versatile, it's a great pasta shape to have around the house, as it can be used with a wide range of pastas and it can be baked or cooked in soups in addition to being boiled and served.

Shell pasta is pasta made to resemble a shell.
Shell pasta is pasta made to resemble a shell.

The shell-like shape of the pasta makes this shape very sturdy, so it will hold up to solid, chunky sauces. Shell pasta is also typically ridged, so it will trap more light, delicate sauces and distribute them evenly through a pasta dish. The scooped shape will also create a sauce reservoir, and many people find the burst of sauce when they bite into shell pasta quite enjoyable. For people who are cooking for young picky eaters, the fun shape can spark interest.

Spinach can be added to pasta to add color and flavor.
Spinach can be added to pasta to add color and flavor.

Many pasta companies produce shell pasta in a range of sizes. Very small sizes are designed for soups or baked dishes like macaroni and cheese. Larger sizes can also be used in baked dishes, or they can be served with a sauce of choice. Very big shells can be baked like manicotti, or served with bold, chunky sauces; big shapes can make quite a statement, for cooks who are looking for something unusual to serve.

Quinoa can be used to make gluten-free shell pasta.
Quinoa can be used to make gluten-free shell pasta.

The best choice for shell pasta is pasta which has been made from Durum wheat. This grain is particularly hard, so the pasta will stay chewy and texturally interesting even if it is slightly overcooked; the dense structure of the pasta will also hold up through baking or stewing when other pasta shapes might fall apart. People with gluten intolerance can find shell pasta made from other materials like corn, quinoa, and rice, depending on the size of their local markets. This pasta variety can also be flavored with ingredients like lemon, pepper, or spinach.

Large conchiglie pasta can be stuffed with a cheese filling and baked in tomato sauce.
Large conchiglie pasta can be stuffed with a cheese filling and baked in tomato sauce.

Some recipes may call specifically for shell pasta, and this pasta shape can also replace a wide range of other shapes in favorite recipes. If you are planning to bake shell pasta, remember to undercook it slightly so that it will emerge from the oven with a rich texture.

Parents often serve shell pasta to picky eaters.
Parents often serve shell pasta to picky eaters.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Manicotti is my favorite Italian food dish, hands down. I went to an Italian restaurant once for my birthday, and they didn't have manicotti on the menu. I was so disappointed! How could any self respecting Italian restaurant get away without serving manicotti?!

After that, I learned to make manicotti at home. It's really not that difficult. I found a few helpful hints on the Internet to help me too. The tip that I found most helpful was on how to get the filling in the shells. You put the filling in a plastic bag and cut off the corner. Then you can easily get the filling into the shells!


My friend stuffs her jumbo shell pasta with scalloped potatoes. She precooks the potato mixture until it is almost done before putting it in the shells.

I’m not sure of the exact measurements, but I know that she uses sliced potatoes, butter, milk, parsley, garlic, and breadcrumbs. She layers everything except the breadcrumbs in a casserole dish and cooks it for about thirty minutes. She then takes it out, adds the breadcrumbs, and lets it cook fifteen more minutes.

Then, she stuffs the shell pasta with it. She cooks it until the shell pasta is done. It is absolutely delicious.

Since I don’t like cheesy sauces, she made this for me. The combination of buttery potatoes with pasta is incredibly yummy, and I would recommend it to anyone who is tired of the same old thing.


It is not unusual for me to serve a pasta dish at least once a week. Since all of our family loves pasta, I never have to worry about having any left over.

Pasta is easy to fix, inexpensive, filling and just tastes good! I have a recipe where I layer everything in the pan and bake the pasta dish. I don't think you can put too much cheese on a pasta dish, and the melted cheese is wonderful.

We have a Barilla plant close to our town, and my cupboard has a few boxes of Barilla pasta shells of different sizes. I will also add small pasta shells when I am making soup.


I always boil shell pasta the same way that I boil macaroni and spaghetti. I first bring a pot of water to a boil, and then I add the pasta. I cook it for ten minutes, and then I drain it and add a sauce.

I make the sauce separately in a small pot. I cook butter, lemon juice, minced garlic, and parsley together on low until the butter melts. I keep the sauce heated until the pasta is ready for it.

The little shells act like bowls and hold the sauce within their folds. The sauce also covers the tops of the shells, so they are completely saturated with it.

I love eating shell pasta with toasted french bread. The texture of the toast contrasts the soft saucy pasta texture.


I have never tasted a pasta that I didn't like, but I always make sure to have some shell pasta on hand.

We eat a lot of homemade macaroni and cheese at our house, and we like the shell pasta for this better than elbow macaroni. My kids like the small pasta shells the best, but I prefer the medium sized shells.

It doesn't make any difference in the taste, but it is easier for them to handle the smaller shells. There is nothing like a bowl of hot, homemade macaroni and cheese and sometimes we will have this more than once a week.


@manykitties2-- Same here! Shell pasta is also my favorite shape of pasta. It's just so much fun to cook with it and to eat it. I also like how intricately each shell has been made. I love the round shape that allows foods and sauces to get trapped inside. It's so fun to bite into a shell and be surprised with all the sauce that's in it.

I also noticed that the shells have tiny horizontal lines on them. I wonder how they produce them like this? It must be a special machine that shapes them.


@simrin-- Yes, I've had jumbo shell pasta before. There isn't any difference in terms of taste, it's the same, it just looks different. So I think it's a nice change for people who are tired of having the same kind of pasta.

I don't make stuffed pasta with jumbo shells, I know that is really popular though. I make a chicken and cheese pasta dish with them. It can also be made with small shell pasta depending on preference since it is cooked the same way. I use chicken breast, butter and lots of mozzarella cheese for the recipe. This is my family's favorite pasta meal and my kids love it.


Has anyone tried stuffed shell pasta? They are so good! I thought that ravioli was the best food ever, until I tried stuffed shell past, which I think is even better.

My friend's mother made it for dinner one day. It was jumbo shell pasta stuffed with ricotta cheese and parsley with tomato garlic sauce on top. She served it to us steaming hot. It was so good and fresh.

I had never seen such big shell pasta before. I have seen the small ones that we make macaroni and cheese with. I didn't know they come so large, but I think they are awesome. No more ravioli for me! I asked my mom to get this recipe and make it often.


Does anyone have any tips on how to perfectly cook shell pasta?

I find it very difficult to cook shell pasta, as it seems that parts of the shell are thicker than other areas, which leads to it being undercooked in some places. The other issue is, if I try to cook it enough to get the entire shell finished, it always ends up losing its shape.

Last week was a complete disaster as I tried to swap shell pasta for elbow macaroni and it just came out a shapeless, soggy mess. I just don't know what I am doing wrong.


Small shell pasta has always been my favorite as I have always thought the mini pasta shells were cute. While I know that the appearance doesn't have anything to do with the taste, I have always just preferred to have shell pasta in my Italian dishes

One of the best ways to enjoy shell pasta in my opinion is to smother it in a rich and creamy garlic sauce. Garlic pasta is easy to make and tastes amazing. Plus, I really like when the shells are covered in garlic sauce and get filled up. It makes biting into them a lot of fun.

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