This has been one of the best weeks in recent history for a variety of reasons, but principal among them was finding out that my parents are coming to visit for Christmas!
Most years, I only see my parents once during summer vacation in Sandbridge, Virginia. On extra-special bonus years, I might get another visit in. This appears to be one of those years.
I’m already planning my menu for the four whole days they’ll be visiting.
I come from an Italian family, and my mom’s stuffed shells are the best ever. Mine are never as good as hers, so I’m not even going to try to duplicate the recipe this time around. Instead, I’m going to honor the dish with a variation on the traditional take on stuffed shells.
This is a recipe full of interesting flavors. The butternut squash is slightly sweet, especially after it has roasted and caramelized. The spinach, with its touch of acidity, offsets the sweetness of the butternut squash while the creaminess of the ricotta is balanced by the texture of the pine nuts. Then, the lemon brings it all together with a lovely brightness.
This is a great dish for a fall Friday night or to put in your holiday repertoire this year.
Butternut Squash-Stuffed Shells
2 cups roasted butternut squash
olive oil, for tossing
1 box jumbo pasta shells
2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup fresh baby spinach
1 tsp lemon zest, grated
4 Tbs butter, melted
1/2 cup butter
10 sage leaves (if you can’t find sage, substitute oregano or basil)
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh lemon juice from 1 lemon
Peel and chop the butternut squash, and then toss in olive oil. Roast at 425° F for 15 to 20 minutes or until the squash is tender.
Meanwhile, cook your jumbo pasta shells according to directions.
In a bowl, combine 2 cups ricotta, 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, pine nuts, garlic, spinach, egg, salt and pepper. Combine well. Add the roasted squash and grated lemon zest.
Spoon about 2 heaping tablespoons of the mixture into each shell, and place in a single layer in a 9 x 13 baking dish. Pour 4 tablespoons of melted butter over shells. Bake shells at 400° F for about 20 to 25 minutes.
While the shells are baking, make your sauce.
To make the sage brown butter sauce, melt the 1/2 cup butter in a sauté pan until it’s golden-brown, bubbly and has a nutty fragrance. Add at least 10 sage leaves and sauté until slightly crisp. Remove from heat and add the fresh lemon juice.
Remove shells from oven, pour sauce over shells and sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 527, Calories from Fat: 292, Fat: 32 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (17 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 96 mg, Sodium: 344 mg, Potassium: 370 mg, Carbohydrates: 41 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 3 g, Protein: 20 g.
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