Cooking pasta shells is a great start to a simple, nutritious meal. Pasta shell recipes include using small shells in casseroles and soups and stuffing larger ones with anything from blended cheeses to chopped vegetables and chicken, meat or seafood. Preparing pasta shells is simply a matter of boiling them first, but the timing is important. Undercooked shells have an unpleasant texture, and over cooked ones will fall apart, so it’s important to check them frequently to see if they are done.
Fill a large pot with water. Allow 4 qts. of water for every 1 lb. of pasta. Pasta shells expand a fair amount -- 1 cup of dry pasta is equal to 2 cups when cooked -- so leave room in the pot to keep them from sticking together or boiling over.
Bring the water to a rolling boil, which is when all of the water in the pot is moving. Putting the pasta shells in too soon can make them dissolve a little bit, rather than cook firmly, and the result is sticky and unpleasant.
Add the pasta shells slowly, being careful not to get splashed with boiling water. Stir the shells as you add them to keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pot or to each other.
Set the timer for the time recommended on the pasta shell package. Pasta shells generally take between 9 and 14 minutes to cook, but overcooked shells will be mushy and limp, so don’t guess.
Check the shells by rinsing one or two in cool water and tasting them when the timer goes off. Properly timed pasta shells should be firm, but with no hint of crunchiness.
Pour the pasta shells into a colander over the sink and shake them gently to encourage draining. Rinse them with hot water to remove any extra starch and stir them carefully, turning them to dump out any water that may be trapped inside. A long-handled spoon will help keep your hand away from the rising steam.
Add small shells to your soup or casserole immediately to keep them from sticking together as they cool. Toss shells that will be stuffed with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper to add flavor and keep them from sticking together while they wait to be stuffed.