I feel like I constantly need some form of cheesy winter squash pasta on hand at all times. It's kind of a problem. I saw a recipe for shells with pumpkin and ricotta that sounded good, but the comments all said it came out dry and bland. So instead of using that recipe, I decided to make a pumpkin version of my Spring Shells and Cheese.
So instead of ricotta, I made a bechamel with sage, pumpkin, Gruyere, and Parmesan. Then I added in some sauteed spinach and shallots, for health and color.
Because adding spinach totally makes up for all the cheese and pasta, right? I mean, I did use whole wheat shells...
Anyway, I added in some pecans for crunch. Nuts are healthy, too, right?
Topped with more cheese, and into the oven it goes. It ended up staying pretty saucy and not really setting up like a mac and cheese, but that was fine.
Mmm - yummy fall flavors like pumpkin, nutmeg, sage, and pecan in cheesy pasta goodness. I also discovered, after I got bored of leftovers, that this is quite good with tomato sauce on top!
Cheesy Baked Pumpkin Shells
6 tbsp butter, divided
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups whole milk
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
4 oz Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
4 oz Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 lb medium pasta shells (I use whole wheat)
4 medium shallots, minced
5 oz baby spinach
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
3/4 cup chopped pecans
Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Melt 4 tbsp of the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the sage and cook until the fragrance is released (aka it starts to smell really good). Add the flour and cook, stirring, until the raw flour smell cooks out, about 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk, about a cup at a time, and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat and simmer until thickened slightly. You will know it is ready when you drag your finger horizontally across the back of a spoon coated with the sauce and it doesn't drip down to fill in the line. Stir in the pumpkin puree. Add in the nutmeg, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and stir in all but 3 tbsp of each cheese.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente (1 minute less than recommended time). Drain, rinse with cold water (important for baked pastas), and add to the sauce.
Melt the remaining 2 tbsp butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the spinach and cook to wilt. Add the spinach mixture to the pasta and sauce. Stir in the egg yolks, then the pecans.
Transfer the mixture to a 9x13 baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheeses. Bake until browned on top and heated through, 25 to 30 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.