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Knowing what to serve with stuffed shells is an important part of preparing the perfect pasta dinner. Side dishes are an extension of the main dish and should be chosen carefully to complement, not complicate, the meal.
The side dishes we’re sharing are specifically chosen to go with Italian stuffed shells. We’ve put together this list based on our years of Italian cooking and our Italian heritage. This is a list you can trust.
What to Serve with Stuffed Shells
First, consider the cuisine, in this case Italian or Mediterranean. Therefore, your side dishes for stuffed shells should be either Italian or closely related to it. I’ve seen some crazy ideas for side dishes and it makes me cringe.
In this post, I’ll be sharing with you ideas to get the creative juices flowing from vegetables, meats, and holiday side dish choices. I’ll also provide you with some guidelines for what to consider when choosing your side dishes and why they make a good choice.
Let’s get started.
What Vegetables Go with Stuffed Shells
When deciding what goes with stuffed shells, start with the vegetables. Think about the flavor and texture of the vegetables you can get locally at your grocery store. Choose vegetables that are in season for the best flavor.
Since pasta shells are soft, moist, and served warm with a creamy ricotta filling, choose vegetables that are firm but not mushy. My recipe, shells stuffed with spinach and ricotta topped with a meatless marinara sauce goes great with vegetables, but avoid spinach since that’s already included in the shells. Sauteed vegetables are a good choice, and they are easy to make while the stuffed shells are baking.
Here are some vegetable dishes that pair well with stuffed shells.
Sautéed Zucchini and Garlic
This recipe makes a great side dish, especially when zucchini is in season. Simply slice and saute the zucchini in a frying pan with some extra virgin olive oil and garlic. Serve on the side.
Sautéed Broccoli and Garlic
Broccoli may not be everyone’s favorite idea for what goes with stuffed shells, but the firmness of the broccoli makes it a perfect choice to complement the soft ricotta stuffed pasta. This broccoli and garlic side dish only takes about 15 minutes to make and can be made right before the stuffed shells are ready.
If broccoli isn’t a family winner, then broccolini may fit the palette. Broccolini is more delicate than broccoli and has a milder flavor. It too is sauteed in olive oil and garlic and would be a good side dish for your stuffed shells any day.
Using sautéed vegetables in olive oil and garlic is very common as a side dish. In this case, since stuffed shells (at least in my recipe), don’t use garlic except in the sauce, the garlic in the side dish won’t overpower the main dish.
Grilled or Roasted Vegetables
Grilled vegetables always make an excellent side dish for any pasta recipe. It’s a great choice for parties and cook outs and that’s why we’re including it as a qualified stuffed shells side dish.
If it’s not summer and you can’t grill outside, roast the vegetables under a broiler in the oven. These always taste great with stuffed shells or any other pasta.
Salad Ideas for What to Serve with Stuffed Shells
Anytime you have pasta such as stuffed shells as the main course, using cold salads as a side dish is more than perfect.
Not only are salads healthy, they also help the stomach digest the heavy meal. I prefer serving the salads with the stuffed pasta so that people can eat the salad after the pasta if they wish.
Green Leafy Salads
Choose salads that use a light salad dressing, such as a raspberry vinaigrette or a simple olive oil and vinegar mix. Even a Greek salad dressing would work as well. Avoid heavy or strong tasting dressings that would conflict with the Italian cuisine. Examples of salad dressings to avoid would be Blue Cheese, Ranch, or Thousand Island.
When deciding what to serve with your stuffed shells, why not offer your guests multiple salad choices? Salads used as side dishes for stuffed pasta don’t have to always be green. Instead, look for other Italian-inspired healthy side dishes such as the following.
Tomato and Mozzarella Skewers
Mozzarella, tomato and basil skewers are a fun and colorful side dish when serving stuffed pasta shells in the warmer months. Cool and refreshing salads nicely balance the hot oven baked shells you’ll be eating.
Meat Dishes that Go with Stuffed Shells
If you’re looking for meats that are well suited as side dishes for stuffed shells, think no further than your classic Italian chicken recipes.
Italian Chicken Cutlets
This recipe makes a perfect side dish for stuffed shells and can be made in advance. These Italian chicken cutlets are lightly fried and can easily be reheated on low heat when it’s almost time to serve. These thin and crispy sides are a nice compliment to the soft texture of the stuffed shells with spinach and ricotta filling. Your guests will love them.
Breaded Chicken Breasts
Breaded chicken breasts are oven baked and slightly thicker than chicken cutlets. They are also a healthier side dish since they are baked not fried. These too can be prepared ahead of time and reheated while the stuffed shells are baking.
Slow Cooked Beef Roast
Especially during the holidays like Christmas, a beef roast will go well with stuffed shells. Do not flavor the roast with herbs not found in Mediterranean cuisines and you’ll be just fine.
Common Side Dishes for Stuffed Shells
What dinner with stuffed shells wouldn’t be complete without the following sides? I’d consider these to be absolute musts for any dinner whether for stuffed shells or any baked pasta side dishes.
If you have pasta sauce, you need some good authentic Italian bread for dipping. That’s why Italian bread is making this list of side dishes. Italian bread is known for it’s crusty outer shell and soft dough inside. Serve with some butter and you’ve got a home run.
What’s nice about serving garlic bread as a side dish is that it can either be bought at the store and baked, or made at home using any type of long baguette style bread. You can check out my recipe here for how to make garlic bread at home.
What is focaccia and can it be used as a side dish? The answer is yes. Plan to make the dough at least a day ahead to save time, but this can be served as an appetizer just like regular bread.
Vegan Side Dishes
Vegans won’t eat this recipe since it contains stuffed shells with ricotta and spinach. Vegans don’t eat dairy so that eliminates any recipes using cheese. So when thinking of ideas for what to serve with stuffed shells, it’s important to provide sides that are filling and satisfying for our vegan friends. Here are some ideas.
Cannellini bean salad
This salad is vegan-friendly and I’ve used it many times as a main meal for myself. This healthy cannellini bean salad served with bread can be very satisfying.
Chickpea salad is a Mediterranean salad that is perfect for vegans. It’s loaded with protein from the chickpeas and is very filling. I’ve used this recipe as our dinner on many occasions. Vegans and non-vegans alike would enjoy this recipe.
Holiday Ideas for What to Serve with Stuffed Shells
When holiday time comes, you want to make sure your choice of side dishes match the mood and feel of the season. With stuffed shells as your main dish, choose side dishes that speak to the festivity of the occasion.
Pomegranate is a healthy side dish for any holiday meal. Serve in a bowl along with a spoon. Be careful though, these seeds can stain, so scoop them out for your guests and best to keep away from kids unless they are seated at the table.
Italian Green Beans
This isn’t a side dish of green beans with Italian seasonings, its literally a recipe for Italian green beans, also known as Roman beans. Check out my article that explains what Italian green beans are and how you can grow them yourself. These flat beans have an amazing flavor that is subtle and are seasoned with garlic and olive oil. Very simple to make and will go good with stuffed shells or any other pasta recipe.
Don’t forget to include soups in your list of sides. Soup can be served as a side dish to your shells or as a first course. If you choose to use minestrone soup, you need to make sure you also include some bread which is a great side for minestrone and also the stuffed shells. Soup and bread make great complimentary side dishes.
Desserts that Go Well with Stuffed Shells
We’ve been talking a lot about side dishes, but what about desserts that go with stuffed shells? Choose desserts that are sweet to compliment and balance the acidity of the tomato-based sauce used in the pasta dish.
Here are some ideas for Italian Desserts.
Orange Chocolate Almond Cake
You can’t go wrong with chocolate. This orange chocolate cake recipe is easy and will impress everyone at the table with its slight hint of orange flavoring.
Chocolate Espresso Pudding
Talk about easy! This Italian espresso pudding is deliciously rich and makes a great dessert that goes with stuffed shells. You can easily make this dessert recipe ahead of time and serve when ready.
Share Your Ideas for What to Serve with Stuffed Shells
I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of sides for stuffed shells. It was fun putting it together and I’d love to hear your own ideas as well. Please share them in the comments below!
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