Butternut Squash Stuffed Shells


We all know how obsessed I am with butternut squash. I also happen to be obsessed with pasta and ricotta cheese. This recipe was meant to utilize a staple fall ingredient (the squash, of course!) while also turning up the volume on a classic comfort food.

My family loves vegetable lasagna and all its relatives, especially stuffed shells. If it has spinach and cheese…we will eat it! The only problem is that all that delicious creamy cheese can be a bit heavy (both on the body and the waistline). I suppose the red sauce and spinach count as vegetables…but most of the time the richness of the cheese filling can be a bit overpowering. The squash adds a level of complexity to the dish and also gives you a great way to eat a healthy seasonal veggie. It allows provides creaminess, allowing you to cut in half (or more) the amount of cheese and butter you would normally use. By also adding fresh spices, pesto, and low-fat cream sauce you get all the flavors you love bundled up into a creamy little package.

(PS: you could also use canned pumpkin puree for an even easier, more flavorful recipe!)

Recipe: 

1 butternut squash, cooked and mashed

1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed (about 1 cup)

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1 egg

Italian seasoning (as much as you like!)

Fresh cracked black pepper (as much as you like!)

Jumbo shell pasta

2 cups low-fat milk

1 cup fat free half and half

1/4 cup white flour

3 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon salt

1-2 large garlic cloves, minced

Pesto (optional)

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

2. Cook the shells as directed (usually about 10 minutes in rapidly boiling water). Strain and set aside

3. Make the white sauce: start by melting the butter in a saucepan. Cook the flour in the butter until golden brown, stirring constantly. Stir in the garlic and salt. Add the milk and lower to medium heat. Let it boil, stirring frequently with a whisk, until it’s thick and creamy. If it gets too thick, add more milk. When it’s done, remove from heat otherwise it will keep getting thicker.

4. Chop the squash into 1-inch pieces and boil until soft (about 15 minutes) and drain the water.

5. Defrost the spinach by cooking it in the microwave for about 3 minutes. Strain it completely, squeezing all the water out with your hands.

6. In a bowl, mash the squash into a pulp. Whisk in the egg until well mixed. Stir in the ricotta and mozzarella cheese, spinach, pepper, and Italian seasoning.

7. Coat a 9-11″ baking pan with nonstick spray and a very thin layer of the white sauce.

8. Using a spoon, fill each shell with 2-3 tablespoons of filling

9. Lay each shell carefully into the pan, open side up, trying to keep them upright if possible.

10. Ladle the sauce carefully over the shells ensuring that the ends are covered so they don’t burn or get chewy.

11. Optional: Top each shell with a small dollop of pesto.

12. Bake for about 20 minutes and let set in the oven for another ten. Shell are ready when the filling is a bit puffy.

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