Back home, Friday nights used to be my girls’-night-in sleepover night with my niece Autumn Rose. She’s all of ten now (wow, where did the time go?!), but you’d think she was at least fourteen from the way she looks (tallest in her class!) and the way she acts.
I’ve always been proud of her for being such a healthy eater – her mother drilled it into her from the very beginning and it has done wonders for her in every way. Which is why when I made this for dinner one Friday night late last winter I was completely surprised at her response: I don’t eat stuffed shells…they’re not my thing and I just don’t like them. Ok, first, lol. See what I mean? Ten going on fourteen. And second, this was coming from the girl who voluntarily orders pan-seared fish when eating out (in Disney, nonetheless!), drinks kombucha with me, and laughs in the face of savory green smoothies before gobbling them up (truth be told, I don’t even know many adults who can handle savory green smoothies…they really are an acquired taste!).
She and I have a one-bite rule: if something is new she has to at least try one bite before writing it off. So she tried a bite. And then another. Finished one shell, and another. And then asked for seconds. Whew. For a minute there I was scared she was turning into a normal kid, lol.
These shells are so good, and definitely not filled with your usual stuffed shell filling. I found a random can of pumpkin puree in my pantry and this proved to be a fantastic use for it; pumpkin is so delicious (and healthy), I don’t see any need to save this recipe just for fall. Use this dish to convert adults who claim to not like pumpkin, and kids who claim to not like stuffed shells.
- 2 tablespoons butter, divided, plus more to grease the casserole dish
- 3/4 lb (350 g) jumbo-sized pasta shells
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
- 4 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian herb seasoning, crushed in the palm of your hand
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 1/2 cups (340 g) small-curd California-style cottage cheese (see note below)
- 1 cup (245 g) pumpkin puree (canned is fine; look for solid-pack pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling)
- 2 oz (60 g) sharp white Cheddar, shredded
- 2 oz (60 g) Parmesan, finely grated (a microplane works well)
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, for garnish
- Preheat oven to 375F; generously grease a 9 by 13-inch casserole dish with butter.
- Cook the pasta shells to al dente according to the package directions in salted water. (I like to add a splash of olive oil to the shells as they cook to help prevent them from sticking to together since shell-shaped pasta has a tendency to stick together and once the shells tear, they are nearly impossible to stuff.)
- Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a medium skillet over medium heat; once hot, add the onion, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and cook until softened and just starting to brown, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the garlic, Italian herb seasoning, and nutmeg, and cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly. If any browned bits have formed on the bottom of the pan, add a splash of water and scrape them up with a wooden spoon. Turn off the heat and cool slightly.
- Combine the onion mixture, cottage cheese, pumpkin puree, Cheddar, Parmesan, and eggs in a large bowl.
- Fill the shells with the cheesy pumpkin filling (be careful not to fill them too full or the filling will ooze out when cooking), and arrange the shells in the bottom of the prepared dish. Cut the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter into small pieces and dot the tops of the shells with it.
- Cover the dish and bake until the cheese is melted, about 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the cover during the last 5 minutes so the shells can brown a little.
- Serve hot, with fresh minced parsley sprinkled on top.
California-Style Cottage Cheese: This style of cottage cheese is drier than the creamier Vermont-style cottage cheese. If you can’t find California-style cottage cheese, you can strain your cottage cheese overnight in the fridge in a cheesecloth-lined fine mesh sieve fitted over a bowl to catch the liquid (place a heavy object on top to help it drain faster). Ricotta cheese is also a good substitute.