Creamy beef and shells is a rich and cheesy homemade spin on and flavor-packed upgrade from Hamburger Helper’s hearty family meal. This from-scratch version delivers delicious comfort food that is perfect for a quick weeknight family dinner.
Today we’re making some creamy beef and shells which is a homemade version of the childhood favorite boxed meal. It’s a simple take on Hamburger Helper’s cheesy Italian shells with tender pasta tossed in an indulgent creamy tomato sauce that has the unique combination of being both tomato and dairy-based.
The pasta is combined with ground beef, fresh onions and garlic and lots of cheddar cheese in a tomato cream sauce that’s flavored with paprika and Dijon mustard. This family-friendly meal is going to be a kid favorite and will please even the pickiest of eaters. There are also many ways to build on it and customize it. Serve it with some homemade garlic bread or Parmesan garlic knots and dig in.
If you have leftover ground beef, use it up with these other recipes like Mexican ground beef casserole, chili mac and cheese, homemade Parmesan meatballs, air fryer Mexican stuffed peppers, sloppy joe tater tot casserole, or sour cream beef noodle casserole.
Ingredients in Creamy Beef and Shells
CREAMY BEEF AND SHELLS RECIPE TIPS
- Pasta – Shells come in small, medium, or large but we use medium shells in this recipe so there’s a good meat-to-pasta ratio. Other kinds of pasta will work just as well such as tube-type pasta like penne, ziti, elbow, cavatappi, bowties, fusilli, gnocchi, ravioli, or long pasta like spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine, or angel hair.
8 oz. of pasta shells will look like an underwhelming amount at first but they will double in size and comfortably serve about 4-6 people.
- Ground beef – You don’t need any oil to brown the beef as it will render its own fat. Break up any clumps while browning so it spreads evenly in the pasta. A handy tool I like using to break up any clumps is this meat smasher.
- Onions and garlic – I use fresh onions and garlic but you can substitute them with onion and garlic powder. The recipe uses a modest amount of onions and garlic but if you want a stronger flavor, feel free to add more.
- Flour – This is needed to thicken the sauce.
- Beef broth – This is the base of the sauce that we build on. I like making beef broth with Better than Bouillon beef and mixing it with water as needed. Two teaspoons of the paste are about two bouillon cubes which yields about two cups of beef broth.
- Tomato sauce – I use Hunt’s canned tomato sauce but you can also use jarred pasta or marinara sauce.
- Heavy cream – I wouldn’t substitute this with milk since we want a thick, creamy consistency for the sauce.
- Paprika – You can substitute this with smoked paprika for a smokier pasta sauce.
- Dijon mustard – This adds a bit of a bite to the sauce. If you’re not a fan of mustard, leave it out.
- Simmering – It will seem like there’s a lot of sauce at first, even after cooking it down till it’s thick and creamy. The sauce will thicken some more upon standing once it is off the heat.
- Cheddar cheese – I used extra sharp cheddar cheese for more flavor.
- Leftovers and reheating – This will keep in the fridge for up to 3-4 days. If needed, add a splash of milk when reheating to loosen up the cream sauce again.
- Make it richer – Add some sour cream or cream cheese for more flavor and a richer sauce.
- Change the protein – Substitute ground beef with ground Italian sausage, ground chicken, or ground turkey.
- Add some veggies – Add some vegetables like peas, broccoli, or red bell peppers.
- Add some heat – Add a few shakes of crushed red pepper to spice it up a little.
- Make it smoky – Try a few dashes of smoked paprika to smoke things up.
- Add some color – Garnish with chopped fresh parsley or green onions before serving.
What to Serve with Creamy Beef and Shells
And that’s about it. Enjoy your bowl of beef and shells. Let me know how you liked it, what substitutions you made or what you paired it with in the comments below!
MORE BEEF PASTA RECIPES TO TRY
- Beef Stroganoff
- Sour Cream Beef Noodle Casserole
- Slow Cooker Beef and Cheese Pasta
- Meatball Pasta Bake
- Chili Mac and Cheese