I love making stuffed shells. To me they are an open canvas and a way to make a feast for a large group that comes together fairly easy.
There is something about the taste of pumpkin with the ricotta cheese that makes the shells so rich and decadent. You get a sweetness from the pumpkin and with the ricotta it is a richer but delicate shell experience. Now I know some people will balk at the idea of the pumpkin, I urge you if you are one of those people, to be open minded to this taste experience, it adds so much creaminess and makes the shells so tasty that it is the perfect way to eat stuffed shells. I promise you may not make them any other way, and you can fib a little and not tell anyone until they eat them, which honestly, if I have a fussy eater, I resist the urge to disclose it, until after they tell me how yummy they are! I did this with my kidlets when they were little, sometimes you have to fudge the truth to get them on board and I am totally ok with that, as long as you disclose it after the fact!!
I like making a blush sauce with this which is really similar to my vodka sauce but I use cognac to give it a deeper flavor profile that pairs wonderfully with the pumpkin. I also like to add some sugar to my gravy (marinara) totally optional, but I think the sweetness offsets the kick from the Hennessy. You can omit the Hennessy if you are worried about the alcohol, but I think it pairs well with this dish and you will lose the essence of the sauce.
I hope you give this one a try. I think you will be pleasantly surprised. It isn’t overtly pumpkin tasting, so please don’t fret over that. You can certainly scale back your addition.
Pumpkin Ricotta Stuffed Shells with Cognac Blush Sauce
A festive twist to an Italian classic, that's full of flavor, easy, and so satisfying!
- You’ll see in my Italian recipes that I reference Pecorino Romano cheese, instead of Parmesan. It is a personal preference as growing up in our home we used Pecorino Romano cheese, and I love the taste of this sheep’s milk cheese. But if you love parm, by all means go for it! It doesn’t change the taste much and it is a matter of preference to be honest. I will say this, if possible please avoid using cheese in a can if you can. I know cheese is expensive, but fresh is always best, but with today’s cost of living as it is, choices need to be made where to spend hard-earned income, and I know as the mother of three teens with two in college, sometimes cheese is a luxury compared to having a warm home. Trust me I know!
Credit: CrazySexySavor.com/Susan Mangieri-Maurath
* A special thanks to my fireman for his photography before he and his brother firefighters sat down to eat!! It was a busy day already with 7 calls one of which was a structure fire in bitter cold temperatures! Each day I am reminded of the sacrifices brave men and women make in the course of their jobs that most take for granted! Stay Safe C-Shift!
- 3 cups of ricotta cheese whole milk or part skim is fine
- 1 1/2 cups of fresh pumpkin puree or 15 oz. canned pumpkin puree only
- 1 1/2 cups of pecorino Romano cheese grated divided
- 2 cups of shredded mozzarella divided cup for ricotta cup for topping shells
- 1 clove of minced garlic
- 4 tbsp. of unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp. of fresh sage leaves chopped
- 1 tbsp. of sugar
- 1/4 cup of Hennessy (this cooks off while simmering but leaves and intense flavor element that can stand up to the pumpkin it is almost sweet in its profile which pairs so well with the pumpkin)
- 1/2 cup of heavy cream or to get your desired blush color mine is just like a nice pale pink if I was making a vodka sauce I would use much more cream (I don’t measure ever, unless baking so my measurements are estimates)
- 1 tbsp. of brown sugar
- 1 tbsp. of pure maple syrup
- 1 tsp. of freshly ground nutmeg
- homemade mariana sauce about 3 cups or your favorite jar sauce
- Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste
For the Cognac Blush Sauce
- **I always have homemade mariana sauce on hand I make batches and freeze. I urge you to try to do this for busy nights or just to cut down on prep time, gravy is one of those things that freezes beautifully and you can defrost it in the microwave or take it out the night before and keep in the fridge for a busy weeknight pasta meal in no time flat! Start off with a basic marinara, let simmer for about 15 minutes. Add in cognac, let simmer another 15 minutes, then add in desired amount of heavy cream and 2 tbsp. of butter to add richness to the sauce. Let simmer about 10 minutes on low simmer.
For the Pumpkin Ricotta Shells
- Preheat oven to 375°.
- Cook shells according to package directions. Drain, place on lightly oiled baking sheet in a single layer, making it easier to stuff shells.
- In a large bowl combine pumpkin, mix with a tablespoon of brown sugar, a tsp. of maple syrup, and a tsp. of fresh nutmeg, flavor the pumpkin a wee bit! Mix well. Add in ricotta cheese, 3/4 cup of the pecorino Romano cheese, and mozzarella, mix well to combine. You can add an egg to bind this, but I don’t feel it needs it. My shells always stay together and the step is unnecessary. I know my Culinary Professor, Chef T, is crying right now!
- In a large 9×13 pan layer bottom with the Cognac blush sauce. (In my pics you see my shells in foil catering trays, the reason for this is they are going to the firehouse for New Year’s Day lunch, if I make them for home I always place them in my glass baking dish. They taste the same, it’s just fancier that is all). Begin to spoon or pipe filling if you are so inclined, into cooked shells filling generously without over stuffing. Lay shells nicely in a single layer. When the pan is filled spoon over sauce, add a generous sprinkling of Pecorino Romano cheese, then the “mozz” it’s an Italian thing, and cover with foil. Bake for 45-50 minutes, then uncover and let bake 12-15 more minutes until cheese is bubbling and nicely golden. Let rest about 15 min. covered back with foil, then serve. Mangia!!