Busy nights call for easy recipes and once harvest time has hit, it’s time to slink into comfort food territory. These stuffed shells with zucchini, butternut, and yellow squash baked in a creamy white alfredo sauce couldn’t be easier to prep and are even easier to crave.
This recipe is brought to you by McCormick
I’ve been working hard on my meal planning skills and trying to pay a lot more attention to food waste. What I’ve discovered is I waste way too much food. I do my weekly Farmers Market shopping with the best of intentions of cooking and eating up all I buy, but what family of three can truly eat 4 pounds of peaches, 10 gorgeous bell peppers and a bakers dozen of fresh sweet corn in just one week?
So when I’m in a funk of what to pull out of my back-to-school-weeknight-dinner-making hat, I head to my fridge and rummage through the crisper drawer to capture any veggies, lettuces or fruits that are just shy of taking a turn for the worst.
And that’s how today’s recipe puts last week’s farmer’s market find of zucchini and yellow squash on the top of my meal planning list.
Typically I eat my zuchs and squash at dinner with my favorite 5-minute side dish or for lunch in a quick stir fry over leftover grains or rice. But for this typical weeknight dinner rush I figured I ought to take advantage of the butternut squash that had just about become a permanent fixture on my countertop and add it to the squashed-up mix.
With harvest squash on hand, and several boxes of pasta shells in the pantry, I found myself fancying comfort food with a cheesy, veggie twist that took some super simple minimal chopping, a little sauté, and some stuffing for baking and boom! Dinner was on its way and I’d saved the compost for another day.
About the Recipe
Stuffed shells are typically all about the cheesy centers so I didn’t want my squash to compete but instead to compliment so I made sure to cut all of my veggies into a small dice, not only so they’d all have a similar bite, but so they’d cook at the same rate too.
To give the veggies a bit of herbed flavor, I pulled out one of my favorite herbs to use in the kitchen, my red capped bottle of McCormick Thyme Leaves. When going for a quick sauté I’ll often use dried over fresh simply because dried herbs impart more flavor in smaller amounts. To spread the thyme love even more, be sure to crush the dried thyme between your fingers as you sprinkle over the squash and onions. Oh the aroma is deee-vine.
Most stuffed shell recipes typically call for a marinara sauce, but with these lighter harvest squashes a thick tomato sauce just sounded a bit too domineering a flavor to me. Since I had some leftover cream from a peach cobbler Smudge had made the weekend before, I poured it into a skillet and cooked it until it had reduced and thickened to create a super simple sauce, no flour or butter required.
For flavor, I do what I do for all my creamed lasagna sauces and added McCormick’s ground nutmeg, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper along with a generous handful of ground Parmesan cheese. The nutmeg gives the cream sauce just a hint of earthiness that is so good with the thyme-flavored squashes and ricotta cheese. I dare you to not lick the leftovers straight from the bowl.
The ricotta and cheese stuffing couldn’t be easier to make and prepare for the shells. Simply mix these ingredients together and go!
- Ricotta cheese, whole or reduced fat both work equally well.
- Shredded mozzarella, you could also use provolone.
- Grated Parmesan cheese, I like mine finely ground and get it in my grocery store deli (no canned green stuff for me, thanks.)
- And an egg to bind the cheese and the squash and thyme like a heavenly, cheesy glue.
When boiling the shells before stuffing, be sure to generously salt the water once it’s come to a boil (to avoid pitting your pan) and undercook them just a bit so they’re still firm enough to stand up to stuffing and won’t fall apart as you do.
Half of the cream goes on the bottom, half on top. I also added some shredded mozz to the top before baking but next time I might skip it and use just grated Parmesan instead to show off the shell shapes instead.
A Few Recipe Ideas to Finish the Meal
This pasta is pretty decadent on its own so I like to keep things simple and in the Italian region when thinking about what to serve alongside:
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Bookmark this recipe and leave a comment below, or take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
- 20-24 large shell pasta noodles
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup diced butternut squash
- 1 cup diced yellow squash
- 1 cup diced zucchini
- ½ cup diced yellow onion
- 2 cloves garlic, divided
- 2 teaspoons McCormick Thyme leaves
- 1½ teaspoons McCormick sea salt, divided
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground McCormick black pepper
- 3 cups ricotta cheese
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided, plus more for garnishing
- 1 egg
- 3 cups whipping cream
- ½ teaspoon McCormick Ground Nutmeg
- Preheat the oven to 375° F.
- Cook the pasta shells in generously salted water according to the package directions for 7-8 minutes or just until al denté. Drain the noodles and set aside.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet over medium with the olive oil. Add the minced squashes, onion and one minced or pressed clove of garlic. Season with 1 teaspoon of the salt and pepper. Crush the thyme leaves between your fingers and sprinkle over the squash mixture, stir, and cook for 5 minutes or until the squashes are just barely becoming tender. Remove from heat and transfer to a mixing bowl to cool.
- To make the cream sauce, wipe out the skillet, add the cream, the remaining garlic clove (peel and smash it with the side of a heavy knife), nutmeg and ½ teaspoon of the salt and bring to a low boil over medium high heat, stirring often. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 10-12 minutes or until the cream has reduced by half. Stir in ½ cup of the Parmesan cheese and taste for seasoning.
- Once the squash mixture has cooled, stir in the ricotta cheese, 1 cup of the mozzarella and ½ cup of the parmesan cheese to the mixing bowl. Whisk the egg in a small bowl and stir it into the cheese and squash mixture until combined.
- Cover the bottom of a 9 X 12 baking dish with 1 cup of the cream mixture. Fill the pasta shells with a generous scoop of the ricotta and squash mixture and place the shells in rows until all are filled. Drizzle the rest of the cream mixture over the shells and top with the rest of the mozzarella. Cover with foil (spray with cooking spray so the cheese doesn’t stick!) and bake for 30 minutes or until bubbly. Remove the foil and bake for 10 more minutes or until the cheese begins to brown. Serve with more Parmesan cheese and chopped flat leaf parsley if desired.
This post is in partnership with McCormick. As always, thank you for reading and for supporting companies I partner with, which allows me to create more unique content and recipes for you. All opinions are always my own.
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