Italian stuffed shells with a twist!
They have a classic filling made with Ricotta cheese plus the totally unexpected but completely delicious addition of butternut squash and bacon with dreamy Alfredo sauce.
The Alfredo sauce is made with milk and Parmesan cheese plus garlic, butter and flour to help thicken it. The filling also has chopped parsley for a pop of freshness, mozzarella, an egg to help bind it together and just a touch of nutmeg.
The entire thing is topped with more mozzarella and bacon.
Because the butternut is so mild and sweet they need something savory and salty to make the flavor come alive so I use bacon – cooked crispy and crumbled over the top for the finishing touch.
You can also use cooked ground Italian sausage – sweet or hot – or cooked, chopped sausage links. Garnish the top with them before sprinkling the mozzarella cheese.
Filling the shells need not be daunting. You need large pasta shells cooked to al dente. They’re drained and spread out on a baking sheet to cool enough so you can handle them without being burned.
Filling them is not as hard as it may look! Hold the shell in one hand and gently open it so you can stuff it by scooping up the filling with a teaspoon. After a few you’ll be a pro.
Usually, stuffed shells are for special occasions and holidays but once in a while I get a hankering for them and make them “just because”. That’s when I like to fiddle with the recipe a little and do something different.
They come out of the oven hot and bubbly, ooey and gooey with melted cheese and creamy middles surrounded by chewy pasta.
Savory, sweet and salty. . .
- 12 ounces large shells (like Barilla)
- 2 + ½ cups cooked mashed butternut squash
- 15 ounces Ricotta cheese
- ¾ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
- ½ teaspoon sea or kosher salt
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
- a pinch or two of ground nutmeg
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese from a block
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
- Cook the shells according to package directions in plenty of salted water. Drain and lay them out on a baking sheet to cool.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Generously grease a 9x13-inch baking or casserole pan with butter.
- In a large bowl stir all the filling ingredients together.
- In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan melt the butter over low heat and add the garlic. Cook until fragrant, stirring often.
- Stir in the flour and cook 2 - 3 minutes, stirring often.
- Slowly stir in the milk. Turn the heat up to medium-high and bring to a simmer, stirring often.
- Simmer 3 - 4 minutes, stirring often.
- Turn the heat down to low and stir in the Parmesan cheese a little at a time. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
- Let the sauce cool down so it's not piping hot but still warm. Cover the bottom of the pan with about half of it.
- Use a teaspoon to stuff each shell with about 2 + ½ tablespoons of the cheese mixture, place them in the pan close together in one layer.
- Once all the shells are filled pour the remaining sauce over them. Sprinkle with 1 cup of mozzarella cheese.
- Cover the pan with foil and bake 20 minutes.
- Remove the foil from the pan. Bake 10 - 15 more minutes or until the center shells are hot in the center.
- Garnish with bacon and more parsley if desired. Let the shells set 5 - 10 minutes before serving.