Ricotta stuffed shells, surrounded by a roasted butternut squash vodka sauce, topped with cheese and baked to bubbly, cheesy goodness.
These fabulous ricotta stuffed jumbo pasta shells are baked with a roasted butternut squash, tomato and vodka sauce and topped with extra cheese. It’s all baked into bubbly, cheesy goodness.
This dish would be perfect for a special dinner anytime (it’s a nice change from tomato sauce baked pasta) or a fabulous vegetarian option to serve up for Thanksgiving or a special Fall or Winter family dinner.
What you’ll need
And a few notes on the key ingredients …
Jumbo Pasta Shells – look for the word jumbo right on the box, as you’ll want the largest pasta shells in order to fill them.
Shredded Mozzarella – I like to shred my own mozzarella, but pre-shredded mozzarella should work fine here, as well.
Ricotta Cheese – I recommend full fat, traditional ricotta cheese. It doesn’t need to be drained at all.
Parmesan Cheese – freshly grated Parmesan is recommended, as you can get larger shreds, which I think is always nice.
Vodka – you can omit the vodka, if you prefer. It’s role in this dish is to heighten the flavour of the sauce, but it doesn’t introduce any flavour on its own really.
Butternut Squash – you’ll need about 1 medium-large butternut squash. I had 3 very small butternut squash, so I just roasted them all off, then measured out what I needed and froze the rest.
Basil – it’s hard to beat fresh basil here, but in a pinch, dried basil leaves will work.
First Step: Roast the butternut squash and garlic in the oven, for about an hour. Remove the roasted butternut squash and measure out the required amount. Set aside the roasted garlic for now. *Can be made ahead and refrigerated.
Second Step: Mix together the ricotta stuffing for the pasta shells. Set aside for now. *Can be made ahead and refrigerated.
Step Three: Mix together the butternut tomato vodka sauce in a food processor (or blender). *Can be made ahead and refrigerated.
Step Four: Boil a large pot of water, salt generously and boil the jumbo pasta shells a couple of minutes less than the recommended package instructions. Drain the shells and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking.
Step Five: Assemble the casserole by spooning 1/2 of the butternut squash on the bottom of the casserole dish. Stuff cooked pasta shells with ricotta filling, top with remaining sauce, then top it all off with the reserved Parmesan and mozzarella cheese.
- There are several opportunities to make some or much of this recipe ahead. Roast the butternut squash ahead and refrigerate. Make the ricotta filling ahead and refrigerate and/or make the butternut vodka sauce ahead and refrigerate.
- Save some time at dinner time by assembling the casserole ahead, covering and refrigerating for up to 8 hours before baking.
What to serve with these stuffed shells
These stuffed shells are lovely served with a simple salad or a simple green vegetable like broccoli or green beans.
Making ahead, storing and freezing
You can assemble and refrigerate the stuffed shells ahead and bake later. cover well and refrigerate up to 8 hours after assembling before baking.
Store left-overs well covered in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Re-heat in the microwave or in a 350F oven, covered with foil, until warmed through.
These stuffed shells will also freeze well, tightly wrapped, up to 3 months.
Get the Recipe: Ricotta Stuffed Shells with Butternut Sauce
- 1 large butternut squash, unpeeled, halved lengthwise and seeds removed. See instructions below for how to roast and for using cubed fresh or frozen butternut squash
- 1 head garlic, unpeeled, 1/2-inch sliced off root end exposing the cloves
For the ricotta filling:
- 16 oz (475 g) full fat traditional ricotta cheese
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded (plus more for topping)
- 3/4 cup Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, shredded (plus more for topping)
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped, plus more for garnish (or 1 Tbsp dried basil leaves)
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, slightly less for fine table salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
For the butternut vodka sauce:
- 2 1/2 cups roasted butternut squash, * from above
- 6-8 cloves roasted garlic, * from above
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream, 35% b.f.
- 1/4 cup vodka, can omit
- 5 oz (156 ml) can tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, slightly less for fine table salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
For the pasta shells:
- 8 oz. (200 g) jumbo pasta shells, about 25-30 jumbo shells
- Salt, for boiling water
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 3/4 cup Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, shredded
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Several parts of this recipe can be prepared ahead and refrigerated. Roasting the squash ahead and refrigerating is a big time saver. You can also mix up the ricotta filling and/or mix together the butternut vodka sauce ahead and refrigerate.
- Roast the butternut squash: Preheat oven to 375F. (not fan assisted) Cut 1 large butternut squash in half lengthwise and remove and discard the seeds. Place the squash cut side down on a baking sheet. Place the head of garlic cut side down between the squash. Place into preheated oven and roast for 1 hour, or until tender. Remove from oven, then flip over the squash to cool slightly. Use a spoon to scoop out the flesh from the squash into a large measuring cup, measuring out the required 2 1/2 cups needed. You can reserve any remaining squash for another use. Set the roasted garlic head aside for now. (Alternately, use fresh or frozen peeled and cubed butternut squash, drizzled with olive oil and roasted in a 400F oven for 20-40 minutes or until tender. Separate the head of garlic into unpeeled cloves and roast them alongside the squash cubes. Mash and measure out the squash to the required amount. Peel the roasted garlic and set aside.) *Can be made ahead and refrigerated.
- Reduce oven temperature to 350F. (not fan assisted) if baking the casserole right away.
- Make the ricotta filling: Using a medium bowl, add the ricotta, 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese and 3/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese. Whisk together the egg yolks, chopped basil, salt and some freshly ground pepper. Add to the ricotta mixture and stir together well. Set aside. *Can be made ahead and refrigerated.
- Make the butternut vodka sauce: Add the roasted and measured squash to a food processor. If you roasted a whole head of garlic, squeeze the softened garlic from the head into the food processor. (Add the peeled roasted garlic now, if you roasted and peeled separately). Add the cream, vodka, tomato paste and salt to the food processor. Add some freshly ground pepper. Process with the food processor until smooth. Set aside. *Can be made ahead and refrigerated.
- Boil the pasta shells: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously, then gently place the shells into the boiling water to avoid breakage. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are just al dente, about 8-10 minutes. Don't over-cook. Use a slotted spoon or spider strainer to transfer the cooked shells to a colander. Run the cooked pasta in the colander under cold water to stop the cooking, then allow to drain thoroughly. Set aside the pasta shells.
- Assemble the casserole: place 1/2 of the butternut vodka sauce onto the bottom of a 8×11-inch or 9×13-inch casserole. Place a heaping 1 Tablespoon of the ricotta filling into each jumbo shell and place on top of the sauce, filling the shells until you have used all the ricotta filling. Try to keep the shells in one layer. It's ok to scrunch them right up against each other. Top with the remaining sauce, then sprinkle with the topping mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover the casserole with aluminum foil that has been sprayed on the underside with cooking spray.
- (You can assemble the casserole, cover and refrigerate to bake later. Refrigerate up to 8 hours before baking. Allow extra cooking time if casserole is cold going in to the oven.)
- Bake the casserole in a preheated 350F oven for 20 minutes covered with foil, then remove the foil and cook 30-35 minutes uncovered, or until the filling is bubbly. Allow a bit of extra time if the casserole was cold going in to the oven. You can switch the oven to broil at the end of cooking if you'd like to brown up the cheese a bit. Allow casserole to rest 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve garnished with additional chopped fresh basil or small basil leaves.
- Refrigerate left-overs well covered for 2-3 days. Left-overs should also freeze well, well wrapped, up to 3 months.
Adapted from Food & Drink Magazine
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Hi! I’m Jennifer, a home cook schooled by trial and error and almost 40 years of getting dinner on the table! I love to share my favourite recipes, both old and new, together with lots of tips and tricks to hopefully help make your home cooking enjoyable, stress free, rewarding and of course, delicious!