I’d better come clean – this was supposed to be a lasagne. But when I went to the cupboard to get the lasagne sheets, there were only about 3 in the box. A quick rethink, a look at what we did have – conchiglioni! – and the ingredients were repurposed into these delicious stuffed shells instead.
I first made stuffed shells for Succot, when stuffed foods are the order of the day, but these are just as good at any time of year. This dish also has the advantage of reheating really well if you make it in advance. Ideal shabbat food, or just great if you need to make-ahead for a quick and easy dinner.
The butternut squash and spinach filling is really tasty as well as being highly nutritious and packed with vegetables. But it’s the gooey cheese sauce and crispy cheesy topping that really makes these stuffed shells special. Kipper wanted seconds – but only of the “crispy bits”!
Giant pasta shells or ‘conchiglioni’ are becoming more easily available in the UK. Time was when you’d have to visit an Italian deli or other specialist shop, but these days you’re quite likely to find them in the supermarket, either with the ‘ordinary’ pasta, or sometimes in the specialist foods section. Ocado even has a choice of two different kinds!
Of course you could make this as a lasagne instead – just layer up the squash mixture, the cheese sauce and the pasta sheets in the usual way, and put plenty of grated cheese on the top. You can let me know how my original idea came out! I think in retrospect I prefer the stuffed shells version…
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Cheesy butternut squash and spinach stuffed shells
Giant pasta shells are stuffed with a tasty squash and spinach filling then baked on a bed of cheesy sauce. More melty cheese on top makes them extra-special!
For the shells and filling
- 1 small butternut squash (approx 800g)
- 2 medium onions
- 2 tbsp butter or oil
- 200 g washed spinach
- 75 g cream cheese (1/3 cup)
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- Good pinch cinnamon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 200 g giant pasta shells (conchiglioni)
For the cheese sauce & topping
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp flour
- 400 ml milk (1 3/4 cups)
- 100 g grated cheese (1 cup)
Peel the butternut squash and remove the seeds. Coarsely grate the flesh - I use the food processor which makes it fast and easy! Set aside.
Peel and chop the onions. Heat the butter/oil over a medium heat in a large skillet, and add the chopped onions. Fry for 3-5 minutes until starting to soften.
Add the grated squash to the pan and stir well. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until the squash is softened.
Remove any tough stalks from the spinach if necessary, then shred the leaves and add to the pan. Cover and allow to wilt for a few minutes before stirring into the squash mixture.
Stir in the cream cheese, nutmeg and cinnamon. Taste and adjust the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat.
Cook the conchiglioni in boiling water for 8 minutes. Drain well and rinse in cold water. (Make sure the shells are well drained as they can hold quite a bit of water inside.)
To make the cheese sauce
Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Add the flour and stir well in. Cook, stirring, for about a minute. Remove from the heat.
Add the milk a little at a time, beating well after each addition, until all the milk is added and the liquid is smooth and not lumpy.
Return to the heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in about half of the cheese.
To assemble and finish the dish
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).
Add about 50-75ml (roughly 1/4 cup) of the cheese sauce to the butternut squash filling and mix well. Pour the remaining sauce into the bottom of a large baking dish and spread into an even layer.
Stuff a generous tablespoon of filling into each pasta shell and arrange on top of the sauce in the baking dish.
When all the shells are filled and in the dish, sprinkle the reserved cheese over the top.
Bake for 30-45 minutes, until cooked right through, golden and crispy on top, and bubbling around the edges. If the dish seems to be browning too quickly, cover it loosely with foil for the remainder of the cooking time.
Depending on the exact size of your butternut squash, you may have a little filling left over. Spoon it into a dish, top with grated cheese, and bake! Delicious!
If you have giant pasta shells left over, you might also like to try these Pinto bolognese stuffed shells from The Veg Space.
I’m linking this recipe up with CookBlogShare, hosted this week by Easy Peasy Foodie.