When feeding a group of people, large or small, I’m always trying to figure out how to prep ahead. I want to have a more hands-off experience so I can enjoy time with friends and family. I often make stuffed shells to avoid a cooking frenzy. In fact, these squash stuffed shells (and a few ricotta variations) have made an appearance at quite a few get-togethers. It’s a lot of cooking time but not a lot of hands on time. Bonus: everything can even be made ahead of time! These squash stuffed shells are also a great fit for a more traditional Thanksgiving. It’s a perfect side for those eating turkey and makes for a great main for everyone else.
Step by Step
Vegetarian Thanksgiving Menu
The vegetarian menu shows my weakness: cream. This pasta dish is the star of the show but the carrots and the Brussels sprout salad balance out the richness. This meal is full of vegetables but still satisfying for everyone. Prep the pasta and salad ahead of time for day-of ease. The full meal includes:
Wine Pairing: 2013 Boeger Tempranillo: I paired this meal with a lovely Tempranillo from Boeger Winery. Tempranillo is an excellent wine with mealtime. It’s on the lighter side of the reds, with soft tannins, cleansing my palate just enough to really appreciate the sweet and savory components of these squash stuffed shells.
Butternut Squash Stuffed Shells with Cream Sauce
A beautiful main dish for the vegetarians that also works as a seasonal holiday side, these shells can be prepped in advance making day-of cooking easier.
- 1 large butternut squash roughly 2 lbs
- 6 ounces large pasta shells
- 2 teaspoon maple syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried sage or 6 to 8 fresh leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary or 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 3/4 cup grated parmesan see note
- Fresh sage for topping
- Preheat oven to 400˚F.
- Slice butternut squash in half and scoop out seeds. Place each half cut side down in a large roasting dish and pour 1/2 inch of water into the bottom. Place in oven and bake until tender, about 30 to 45 minutes. Once done, remove and let cool.
While squash is roasting, cook pasta shells according to directions. Cook until pasta is al dente (tender, but not over soft).
When squash has cooled enough to handle, scrape out the flesh into a bowl and discard the skins. Mix in maple syrup, salt, and nutmeg until thoroughly incorporated.
To make sauce, melt butter in a medium sized pot over medium low heat. Pour in heavy cream, garlic, sage, and rosemary. Reduce heat and continue to cook the sauce without boiling the cream until the cream has thickened slightly, 3 to 4 minutes. Gradually stir in 1/2 cup of parmesan and keep stirring until the cheese is completely melted.
Pour 1/4 of the sauce in the bottom of a medium baking dish. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of butternut filling into each pasta shell. Place stuffed pasta shell in the dish and repeat until pasta shells are filled. Pour remaining sauce over the shells and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup of parmesan.
- Return stuffed shells in the oven and bake until sauce starts to bubble and slightly brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve with a sprinkle of fresh sage.
Tips & Tricks: The roasted butternut squash should yield about 2 cups mashed.
Look for parmesan made with 'vegetarian rennet' or 'microbial rennet'. Both would indicate that the parmesan is vegetarian!
For an extra crusty top, place the pasta under the broiler after it finishes cooking for 30 to 60 seconds to brown the top.
Nutrition: See the information.
Squash Stuffed Shells
I usually prefer homemade whole wheat pasta. But when it comes to these shells, I buy the store brand for ease of use. If you’re wanting to go the homemade route, think of making large squares you might use for ravioli but instead of sealing them, turning them into a boat instead. Not a pretty as the store-bought but it works!
Pasta: Can’t find the shells? Cube the butternut and roast. Serve with the sauce over pappardelle or your favorite gluten free noodle.
Winter Squash: If you don’t have butternut squash, you could try this recipe with acorn squash or even canned pumpkin.
Greens: Add in chopped spinach, kale or collards. For tougher greens such as kale, remove stems and blanch before chopping. Mix in with butternut squash before stuffing the shells.
I’m amazed that this quintessential fall item isn’t included in more Thanksgiving meals. One of my first Thanksgivings featured a butternut squash casserole. I’ve since moved on to these squash stuffed shells. It’s a wonderful pairing for other classic holiday recipes. Of course, if you don’t include it in your holiday celebrations, there’s still plenty of ways to enjoy butternut squash throughout the fall and winter seasons: