Spicy Pumpkin and Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells.
This Pumpkin and Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells is for nights when you’re craving Italian, but you’re also craving fall flavors. Jumbo pasta shells stuffed with a basil pesto and ricotta cheese mixture. Then baked in a spicy pumpkin vodka sauce that’s creamy and so delicious! This is a great fall pasta to serve any night of the week, or for your next Saturday night dinner party.
Can you guys tell that I’ve entered full on comfort food mode over here?
I know it’s only October and all, but with our major snowfall this week (if you follow on Instagram you saw all the photos) I really cannot stop these comfort food cravings. When it’s cold all I want to make is butternut squash pasta, homemade curries, noodle soup, and homemade pumpkin butter.
So, all the best fall food.
I have to say, even though I think it’s WAY too early for snow, I’m loving the coziness it brings. As well as the excuse to stay warm inside all day. I swear the chill in the air, and the snow on the ground, makes cooking even more enjoyable for me. Which is nice considering that I’ve been spending almost all my time in the kitchen lately.
But then I do kind of miss the fall leaves…
Anyway, moving on to this pasta.
I was inspired to create these pumpkin stuffed shells after making this pasta last year and loving it so. This is kind of the fall version of that pasta dish, and as you can guess, it’s a new go-to for me.
This easy recipe uses a lot of pantry staple ingredients. And while it does take some time, it’s still very easy to make and comes together in just about an hour.
To start, make the spicy pumpkin vodka sauce. This is just a mix of spicy ground chicken sausage, pumpkin puree, vodka, and spices. I love using chicken sausage as it adds so much flavor. It also means you don’t have to add extra ingredients like onions and garlic to the sauce. One note, I prefer using lean chicken over pork sausage, which can be a little too greasy sometimes.
While the sauce simmers, make the stuffed shells. These are the almost too good…fresh ricotta, fontina cheese, and basil pesto, all stuffed into a pasta shell? Nothing not to love here.
Snuggle the cheese stuffed shells right into the spicy pumpkin vodka sauce, then top with mozzarella and bake until the pasta is golden and the cheese has melted.
Hello to cheesy, pumpkiny pasta perfection.
This is one of the best dishes to come out of my kitchen as of late, and that’s saying A LOT since I’ve been cooking A LOT.
I know it may seem a little odd to use pumpkin in such a savory way, but go with me on this one. It lends a creamy texture to the sauce while providing a hint of both sweetness and autumn flavors.
Just give it try. I know you guys will all love it!
If you make this pumpkin and pesto cheese stuffed shells please be sure to leave a comment and/or give this recipe a rating! Above all, I love to hear from you guys and always do my best to respond to each and every comment. And of course, if you do make this recipe, don’t forget to also tag me on Instagram! Looking through the photos of recipes you all have made is my favorite!
Spicy Pumpkin and Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells
Perfect for nights when you're craving Italian, but you're also craving fall flavors. Jumbo pasta shells stuffed with a basil pesto and ricotta cheese mixture. Then baked in a spicy pumpkin vodka sauce that's creamy and so delicious!
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 pound ground spicy Italian chicken sausage
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 1/2 cup vodka
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- kosher salt and pepper
- 1 pound jumbo shells
- 16 ounces (about 2 cups) whole milk ricotta cheese
- 2 cups shredded fontina cheese
- 3/4 cup basil pesto, homemade or store bought
- 8 ounces mozzarella, torn
- fresh basil, for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x13 inch baking dish or dish of similar size.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the chicken sausage and brown all over, about 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the bell pepper, pumpkin, vodka, milk, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and boil the pasta until al dente according to package directions.
4. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, fontina, and 1/2 cup pesto.
5. To assemble, spoon 3/4 of the pumpkin sauce into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Working with one pasta shell at a time, spoon about 1 tablespoon of the cheese mixture into each shell, placing the filled shell into the baking dish as you go. Spoon the remaining pumpkin sauce over top of the shells and then drizzle the remaining 1/4 cup pesto evenly over everything. Add the mozzarella.
6. Transfer the baking dish to the oven and bake 20-25 minutes or until the cheese has melted and is lightly browned on top. Cool 5 minutes before serving. Serve with fresh basil. Enjoy!
*If you'd like to make this vegetarian, no problem, just omit the chicken sausage and use a little more crushed red pepper flakes for heat, if you'd like.
*To make the pasta ahead, just do everything up until the final baking, cool, and store in the fridge until ready to serve!
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