Scott walked in from the garden the other day with these two beauties in hand. Woohoo – it’s officially fall! I decided to make one of our favorite dishes for dinner – butternut squash stuffed shells with a sage cream sauce. This recipe is perfect for cooler weather, since it features two traditional fall flavors – cinnamon and sage.
I love all filled pastas, but I chose to make this dish using large pasta shells, because it is a quicker, easier option for a weeknight than making fresh pasta for ravioli. You can also use this filling and sauce to make lasagna, manicotti, tortelloni, cannelloni, etc.
I created this recipe on a cold winter night while Scott and I were living in Maine. We had a butternut squash from our garden and we needed something hearty for dinner. This dish definitely delivered! Read below to see how to make it.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
To start, you need to prep the butternut squash. You’ll need one large or two small for this recipe. Start by cutting the stem off the top and the base off the bottom.
Cut the squash in half at the base of the “neck” to separate the upper half from the lower half. This will make it easier to peel.
Peel the skin off both pieces.
Slice the bottom piece in half and scoop out the seeds and squash guts. (Yes, I refer to squash innards as guts, too – not just tomatoes.)
Cut the squash into 1/2 inch cubes and place in a bowl. Add olive oil, salt, and pepper and toss to coat.
Spread the squash pieces out on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, flipping once or twice during the cooking process. Remove from oven and put squash in a bowl.
Turn oven down to 350 degrees. Use a potato masher to mash the squash until mostly smooth, with some chunks. You can also use a food processor, but we like the squash to keep some of its chunky texture. If you prefer a smooth puree, definitely use a food processor.
Add a 15 oz. container of Ricotta cheese to the squash, and stir to combine.
Shred two cups of fresh mozzarella cheese. Add to the squash mixture and stir to combine.
Add salt, pepper, and cinnamon to taste. (I really love cinnamon, so I add a lot!) Stir and set mixture aside.
At this point, you should start preparing the shells and sauce. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt to the water. Place 24 dry pasta shells in the boiling water and cook according to pasta packaging.
When the shells are done, drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. (If you don’t do this, the pasta will continue to cook and will get very mushy.)
To start the sauce, melt 4 TB of butter in a pan over medium heat.
Grab some fresh sage from your garden. I used 4 large sage leaves for this recipe. You can add more or less – depending on how much you enjoy sage.
Rinse and finely chop the sage. Add to the melted butter.
Add 1 clove of minced garlic. (I used a garlic press.)
Add salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is lightly browned.
Add 4-6 TB of flour. Start with 4 TB and whisk it in. You want it to be a thick paste. Add additional flour, 1 TB at a time, to get the desired texture. Stir. Stir. Stir. Cook for a few minutes, until the mixture looks pale and well-combined.
Add 2 cups of half-and-half or whole milk, about 1/2 a cup at a time. Whisk while you pour it in to combine well. Add 1/2 cup of milk to thin the sauce out, if necessary.
Add salt, pepper, and about 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Whisk away! When you get a thick, creamy, tasty sauce, turn off heat.
Add a few ladles of the sauce to the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ baking dish. Move the sauce around to coat the entire bottom of the pan.
By now, the squash mixture should be relatively cool. Add a whisked egg and stir to combine.
Take the squash filling and spoon it into a gallon size bag. Twist to push all of the filling to one corner and then cut that corner of the bag off. (You can spoon the mixture into the shells instead, but I think this method is much quicker – and cleaner!)
Squeeze the squash filling into the shells and place in the baking dish over the cream sauce.
Cover with remaining cream sauce.
If you have extra shells that don’t fit in the baking dish, you can put them in a bag to freeze for another time.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
Garnish with fresh, chopped parsley from your garden. (I also added crushed red pepper flakes, because I love a little spice!)
What is your favorite meal to make on a cool fall night? Let us know in the comments!