There are several requirements for comforting vegetarian dinner recipes now that the evenings are dark (like really dark, way too early) and there’s a chill in the air (ok, or a frost-bite-potential cold #minnesota).
- Cheese has to be involved. Lots of it, too. The more the better. Three cheese, please, but you don’t have to stop there.
- Carbs. You know, the ones that feel like a warm hug and some days it’s all you need for dinner. End of story.
- Herbs. Ah, warm, comforting fall herbs. I mean, I’m not sure they’re really called “fall herbs” but in my book they are. The herbs that are warm and cozy and give you all the family dinners cozied up by the fire feels.
Now that we have that covered, may I present you ricotta and spinach stuffed shells that check ALL THOSE BOXES.
Yes, my friend, this recipe is going to hit every comfort food dinner requirement you might have. Let’s get to it, shall we?
Ricotta and Spinach Stuffed Shells Filling
If you’ve been around here a while, then you likely know that ricotta fillings and pasta are one of the best combinations out there.
The filling for these spinach and ricotta stuffed shells is just as easy (no surprise there!), with the following ingredients (don’t forget to see the full recipe card below for all details):
- the cheeses: ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella – the trifecta really, creating dimension in the flavor, while remaining fairly mild, melty, and cheesy.
- garlic – will I ever post a savory recipe without garlic? likely not.
- dried herbs – here we use a mix of oregano, basil, and thyme to create a warm Italian vibe. Play around and use what you’ve got, you have my full permission (not that you needed it).
- the usual suspects – salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes… c’mon and be sure you’ve got them to add layers of flavor!
Making this filling is as easy as mixing the ingredients up. Then go ahead and prep the rest…
Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce
Oh, be still my heart, this comforting pasta sauce is also healthy and good-for-you, bringing balance to this ultra comforting dish.
It’s a blend (quite literally) of 4 simple ingredients – along with salt and pepper because again – LAYERS OF FLAVOR.
You’ll also love that this sauce is pretty hands-off as far as cooking goes. It all starts on a sheet pan with onion, garlic, and diced butternut squash, where the veggies will roast.
No need to get fancy with chopping here, because after they roast up in the oven and get all beautifully caramelized, we’re going to blend them into a sauce!
So roast away, sweet veggies, with a drizzle of olive oil and S&P.
Then, into the blender (or with an immersion blender in a stockpot) they go, along with some vegetable stock or water.
Note: I love using vegetable stock for added flavor. I’m also about using what you have. So if you don’t have any on hand, you can substitute with water (and/or some pasta water from the shells). Just be sure to taste test as you’ll likely want to add extra salt – and maybe some dried herbs to it, too.
Very important note about blending: the roasted vegetables are hot, and they release steam, naturally. If you’re using a traditional blender with a lid, leave a tiny crack in the top to allow steam to release, otherwise, you may end up with an explosive mess.
Using Jumbo Shells
If you haven’t made a recipe with jumbo shells, then you’re in for a super fun experience.
Yes, I think pasta is a grand ol’ time and I’d bet you might too if you’re here.
It’s very important that you only cook the shells halfway through the package cook-time. Because they’re going to bake in the oven, too, we definitely don’t want them overdone.
Once you’ve boiled them for half the cooking time, drain and rinse the shells, so they are cool enough for you to handle.
How to Fill the Cheesy Shells
This is the fun part: filling the shells!
You can go about it two ways:
- Use a spoon and your hands to fill the shells – a little messy but very hands on and an experience.
- Use a pastry bag – or even a large Ziploc bag with the corner cut off – to pipe the filling into each shell. This method is super easy and seamless, although it does require that one extra tool to wash. And I know you’re using your reusable piping bag or washing that Ziploc 😉
Making Crispy Sage
Once the shells are baking, it’s time to prep the crispy sage.
Now, crispy sage leaves are an absolute thing of beauty. Especially on cozy fall pasta bakes. That’s the ultimate comfort food. It’s easy to do, too!
Melt a little butter in a skillet, add the sage leaves, and let them crisp up for 2-3 minutes, turning with a fork.
I like to remove them and let them ‘dry’ a little bit on a paper towel before garnishing the pasta with them so they remain crisp and not soggy.
How to Serve Stuffed Shells
Once the stuffed shells are ready, the butternut squash sauce will be bubbly and the cheese melty. Garnish with your crispy sage and dig in!
I love serving with a glass of wine (I bet you’re not surprised) and if I need to get some veggies in, a simple side salad or roasted broccolini seal the deal. Quick sauteed brussels sprouts or a side of green beans would be delicious, too.
You can’t go wrong with a side of crusty bread to soak up the sauce either!
More Vegetarian Butternut Squash Recipes to Love:
- Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup
- Wild Rice and Arugula Salad
- Butternut Squash Ravioli with Brown Butter Poppy Seed Sauce
- Butternut Squash and Pear Crostini
- Broccoli and Butternut Squash Soup (it’s vegan!)
Get the Recipe Cheesy Stuffed Shells with Butternut Squash Sauce and Crispy Sage
- 20 jumbo shells, plus a few extra to account for any breaking
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 10-12 sage leaves
- Additional shredded mozzarella cheese to top
- Prepare the sauce: Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place the diced butternut squash, onion, and whole garlic cloves on a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss to coat. Roast for 20-25 minutes, tossing halfway through, until squash is tender.
- Shells: meanwhile, bring a large stockpot of salted water to a boil. Cook the jumbo shells for half the recommended cook time. Drain and rinse. Set aside.
- Filling: As the shells cook, prepare the filling by mixing together all the filling ingredients (cheeses, minced garlic, and dried spices/herbs). Taste test and adjust salt levels as needed. Set aside.
- Once vegetables have roasted, reduce oven heat to 375°F. Place the vegetables in a blender (or a large stockpot if immersion blending) along with the vegetable stock. Place the lid on top, cracking the top hole a bit to allow steam to escape. Puree ingredients together, blending until smooth. Add additional stock if needed. Taste and adjust for salt levels.
- Assembly: spread 2 cups of the sauce on the bottom of an 8×8 or 9×9 ceramic or glass baking dish. Take a shell and scoop or pipe approximately 2 TBSP of filling inside of it, placing it on top of the sauce in the baking dish. Continue filling each shell until finished. Top the shells with the remaining 1 cup of sauce. Sprinkle additional cheese on top as desired.
- Baking: Bake for 26-30 minutes until golden brown and bubbly. Remove and let cool slightly before serving.
- Crispy Sage: While the pasta bakes, melt 1 TBSP butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sage leaves, and using a fork, turn occasionally as they crisp up in the butter for 2-4 minutes. Once they're crispy and deep green in color, remove with the fork and place on a paper towel until ready to serve. Garnish baked pasta with the sage.