These Three Cheese Butternut Squash Stuffed Shells are the ultimate in Fall comfort food.
Ready in 1 hour
So, guys. I was cruising around the Google Image search looking for inspirational quotes on self-care the other day (anyone else do that? Bueller? Bueller?), and I saw a mantra that just rocked me to my core.
It said, very simply, “Hold your own wellbeing sacred.” And it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that if you could have looked inside my head, you would have seen all the lightbulbs in a lightbulb store flipping on. Now, of course, this isn’t a new concept. We’ve all heard that we need to take care of ourselves to take care of others. And that we need to put ourselves first. But something about the word “sacred” just shot through my soul like an arrow. Sacred is non-negotiable. Sacred is elevated on a pedestal. Sacred is above everything else. Sacred is paramount. Sacred is a line you don’t cross. That’s the kind of commitment I need to make to my wellness—sacred level.
After letting this sink in for a few hours, I started thinking about all the ways I wasn’t making a sacred-level commitment to my own wellbeing. My wellbeing wasn’t sacred when I chose to watch another episode of something on Netflix instead of getting the sleep my body desperately craved. My wellbeing wasn’t sacred when I skipped my nightly yoga session to sit on the couch and check Instagram for the millionth time. My wellbeing wasn’t sacred when I ate all the cookies in the house, when one or two was all my body really craved.
It’s not that those things are inherently bad—sometimes you need to binge watch something on Netflix and waste time on Instagram and eat a damn cookie—it’s the fact that I was putting my own wellbeing lower on the priority list than something else. My body needed me to sleep, do yoga, and only eat a single serving of cookies. And I just ignored the hell out of what it was saying. That’s the problem.
For the past few days, I’ve been doing this crazy thing—I ask my body what it needs on a regular basis. And then I answer myself. Like literally. Out loud. I have an actual conversation with myself. And then, the most important part, I actually do whatever my body needs.
The hardest part about this is being honest with myself—pushing aside all the noise, and, being as unbiased as I can, really figuring out what my body (and mind and soul) needs at that moment.
So what does all of this have to do with gooey, cheesy stuffed shells? Well, I was having a rough week last week. Nothing major, but just lots of little annoyances. And it honestly had me a bit down. Which meant I didn’t have much motivation. When meant I then felt guilty for being unmotivated. Which brought me down even more. Viscous cycle, party of one.
Right in the middle of this sour mood is when I was doing the Google Image searching to try to bring myself out of the funk, and after I read the whole sacred wellbeing thing, it occurred to me—maybe being down is my body’s way of telling me what I need right now. I need quiet. I need calm. I need comfort.
(Of note: I definitely don’t feel like mental illness is something you can or should try to just “suck up”—mental illness is a real medical concern that needs real treatment from real professionals—what I’m talking about is not a mental illness, just the typical ups-and-downs of living life.)
So I stopped fighting the blues—I went with it. I listened to what my body was saying, withheld judgement, and went with it. And my body was saying I needed to stay in my jammies, put on some comfy slippers, and eat some cheesy, gooey deliciousness. I needed to wallow. And so I did. I wallowed with three kinds of cheese and pasta and butternut squash. And it worked. Once my body got it’s fill of the wallowing, it cycled back up to all sunshine and rainbow salads and actually putting on real pants in the morning.
It’s interesting what you hear when you actually start listening to your body and what it needs. Would these stuffed shells be something my body would need every day? Absolutely not (although, they are yummy enough I could eat them for every meal). But last week, they needed these. And I’m so glad I listened to my body. Enjoy! And remember: hold your own wellbeing sacred, friends.
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 5 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 cups half and half
- 2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese, plus additional for garnish
- 16 ounces ricotta cheese
- 1½ cups butternut squash puree
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
- 2 eggs
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ¼ cup chopped fresh sage, plus additional for garnish
- 12 ounces jumbo shells, cooked al dente, drained and rinsed
- To make the sauce: Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a large saucepan. Whisk in the flour, and continue to cook until the mixture turns slightly golden brown—about 2-3 minutes.
- Slowly whisk in the broth until all lumps are dissolved. Then add in the half and half, salt, and garlic powder. Continue to heat over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon—about 15 minutes. Watch carefully for scorching, you don't want the sauce to simmer or boil.
- Remove from heat and stir in the nutmeg and parmesan.
- Preheat oven to 350°. Spread about 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a large casserole dish (the biggest you have—at least a 13" x 9"). Set aside.
- To make the filling: in a large mixing bowl, stir together the ricotta, squash puree, 1 cup of mozzarella, eggs, salt, pepper, and sage until smooth.
- Fill the cooked shells with the ricotta mixture (I used about 3 tablespoons per shell, but your shell size may vary). Place the shells, seam-side down, in the prepared baking dish. Repeat with the remaining shells and filling—really packing them into the baking dish.
- Pour remaining sauce over the shells, and then sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella. Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until bubbly and browned on top. Serve topped with additional fresh sage and parmesan.
Make sure you rinse your shells using cool water after draining. Why? It helps cool the pasta down so you can handle them, but also removes much of the starch that makes the shells stick together—making them hard to separate to fill.
Best way to fill stuffed shells—grab a large zip-top bag, fill with the filling, and the clip off the corner. Pipe the filling to the shells using the makeshift piping bag.
This recipe easily will serve 8. It's a great freezer dish if you need to serve fewer than that. Just divide the shells between two square baking dishes—freeze one and cook the other.