I don't know why or how, but for some reason I seem to have developed a mental block against making lasagna. Don't get me wrong - it's one of my favorite foods - but for some unknown reason, I just really hate making it. So I've had this recipe for butternut squash lasagna with goat cheese saved for about a year, but could never work up the motivation to actually make it. A few weeks ago, however, I couldn't get it out of my head, so I decided to convert it to a recipe for stuffed shells.
So here's what we have going on in these shells: butternut squash is roasted with some garlic and herbs, then the flesh is scooped out (along with the sweet and delicious roasted garlic), and mixed with fresh herbs and a white sauce that's infused with goat cheese, Pecorino cheese, and sage. That mixture is then stuffed into shells, topped with more of the goat cheese sauce, and then breadcrumbs mixed with butter, more cheese, and fresh herbs are sprinkled over the whole thing before it's baked.
I shouldn't even have to say this, but of course the shells were totally delicious. It's hard to go wrong with those ingredients though. In my opinion, the breadcrumb topping were what put it over the top. The crispy, buttery breadcrumbs mixed with fresh sage, parsley, and thyme just did it for me. It added some much needed texture, since the filling and the shells were soft, and it also provided a great savory contrast to the filling of the shells - sometimes dishes with butternut squash can be too sweet, and the breadcrumbs helped counteract the sweetness.
I made the full recipe as written below, and froze half the shells for a nice meal once the babies are born. I also think this would be a great idea for a nontraditional Christmas dinner - it's kind of fancy, seasonally appropriate, decadent, can be assembled ahead of time, and most importantly, super tasty of course!
Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Stuffed Shells
inspired by Fine Cooking
- 1 large (or 2 smallish) butternut squash (about 3 lb.), halved lengthwise and seeds scraped out
- 3 medium cloves garlic, unpeeled
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme plus 1 Tbs chopped leaves
- 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 6 Tbs unsalted butter
- 2 sprigs fresh sage plus 2 tsp chopped leaves
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups milk
- 1 1/4 cups crumbled fresh goat cheese (4 oz.)
- 1 1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
- 12 oz jumbo shells, boiled for 2 minutes less than the package instructions, drained, and rinsed with cold water
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the squash flesh side-up and place 1-2 garlic cloves and a sprig of thyme in the empty cavity of each half. Brush with the olive oil, and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Cook until the flesh is easily pierced by a fork and beginning to brown and blister, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
Discard the thyme sprigs. Put the garlic in a large bowl. Scoop the squash flesh from the skins and add it to the garlic. Mash with a fork until smooth, stir in 1 teaspoon each of the sage and thyme, and 1/2 cup of the Pecorino. Add salt and pepper taste, and and set aside.
Decrease the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Meanwhile, make the goat cheese-sage sauce. Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the sage sprigs and cook until the butter is fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the flour and whisk until smooth and golden, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, whisking occasionally, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes. Fish out the sage sprig and discard. Stir in the goat cheese, 1/2 cup of the pecorino, the nutmeg, 1 teaspoon of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Season to taste with more salt and pepper if needed.
Mix 3/4 cup of the sauce into the butternut squash, then set the rest aside. season with additional salt and pepper as needed.
To make the seasoned breadcrumbs, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, chopped sage, chopped thyme, the remaining 1/2 cup of Pecorino cheese, a pinch of salt, and few grinds of pepper. Add the melted butter and mix well with a fork.
To assemble the shells, lightly grease a 9x13 inch baking dish. Spread 1/2 cup of the reserved goat cheese sauce over the bottom of the dish. Stuff each shell with the butternut squash mixture, then arrange in a single layer in the prepared baking dish. Pour 1 1/2 cups of the cheese sauce over the shells, then sprinkle with the breadcrumbs. Cover the dish with foil and bake 25-30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are browned and the sauce is bubbly.
Remove from oven and serve, passing the remaining goat cheese sauce at the table.