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Creamy Beef and Shells

Creamy Beef and Shells is an upgrade from your childhood favorite Hamburger Helper meal -- with so much more flavor and you know exactly what's in it. This simple, family-friendly meal can be ready in 30 minutes or less. This meal is pure comfort food -- we combine rich, creamy, saucy pasta shells with perfectly seasoned ground beef and loads of melty cheese.
Course Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword Creamy Beef and Shells
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4 -6 servings
Calories 601kcal
Author Chelsea Lords
Cost $8.21


  • 3-1/4 cups uncooked medium shells
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup finely diced yellow onion
  • Fine sea salt and pepper
  • 1 lb. (16 oz.) lean ground beef (93/7)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (~3-4 cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons each: paprika, cumin, chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 5 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth Note 1
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream Note 2
  • 1-1/2 cups freshly grated sharp Cheddar cheese Note 3
  • For serving: sour cream (lite or fat-free is great!), fresh cilantro or green onions (optional)


  • PREP: Start by dicing the onion and mincing garlic. Measure out seasonings, and set out the rest of the ingredients.
  • SHELLS: Bring a large pot of water to boiling and generously salt the water (I add 1 teaspoon fine sea salt to every 4 cups of water). Once salted water is boiling, add shells (not the whole box, just 3-1/4 cups!) and cook according to package directions, draining shells 1 minute before directed. Drain; do not rinse.
  • SAUCE: Meanwhile, add the olive oil to a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven; heat to medium-high. Add in onion and season to taste. (I add 1/4 teaspoon salt & pepper here.) Cook, stirring occasionally until becoming soft, about 3-5 minutes. Add in the ground beef and season again. (I add 1/2 teaspoon salt & 1/4 teaspoon pepper.) Cook, crumbling as you cook, until browned all the way through, about 5-8 minutes. (If there is excess grease, drain it off here.) Add in the garlic, seasonings, and tomato paste. Cook, stirring constantly, until very fragrant and tomato paste begins to darken, about 3-5 minutes. Reduce heat if anything is burning, but we're adding in loads of flavor by sautéing here!
  • SAUCE: Add in the chicken broth -- it should sizzle and boil. Cook until mostly all is evaporated into the meat, scraping the bottom of the pan to release any browned bits. Reduce the heat to low and add in the cream. Mix and allow sauce to come to a low simmer. Cook until slightly thickened, about 3 more minutes.
  • FINISHING: Add in the cooked pasta. Use tongs to vigorously toss the sauce with the cooked pasta until the sauce clings nicely to the pasta. Taste once more and season, adding any more salt/pepper as needed. (I typically add another 1/4 teaspoon salt.) Remove from heat. Add in cheese and stir gently until melted. Serve with a big spoonful of sour cream in each bowl and top with any fresh herbs, if using.
  • STORAGE: Store, covered, in fridge for 3-5 days.



Note 1: Chicken broth: Why use chicken broth instead of beef broth? We tested both, and testers preferred the chicken broth instead. The flavor is more subtle and less intense. If you aren't using low sodium broth, you'll want to greatly reduce the added salt throughout the cooking process.
Note 2: Heavy cream: We don’t recommend swapping out the heavy cream -- here’s why: The acidity of the tomato paste has the potential of breaking or curdling the sauce with different substitutes (like half and half or milk). The cream balances the acidity of the tomato paste. Additionally, it adds such an incredible richness and thickness to the sauce — it’s a key ingredient!
Note 3: Sharp Cheddar: This recipe is designed to be simple, but the one thing we recommend is grating your own cheese. This ensures a nice and even melt. Pre-grated cheese contains preservatives that keep the shreds from clumping together in the bag, but they also keep the cheese from melting smoothly.


Serving: 1serving | Calories: 601kcal | Carbohydrates: 27g | Protein: 34g | Fat: 40g | Saturated Fat: 20g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 15g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 166mg | Sodium: 365mg | Potassium: 844mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 1322IU | Vitamin C: 10mg | Calcium: 185mg | Iron: 4mg