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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.

overhead photo of Spicy Pumpkin and Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells in skillet

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…

Spicy Pumpkin and Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells in skillet before baking

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.

overhead close up photo of Spicy Pumpkin and Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells

The details.

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.

overhead photo of Spicy Pumpkin and Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells

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!

close up photo Spicy Pumpkin and Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells with spoon in skillet

Watch the How To Video:

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

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Servings: 6
Calories Per Serving: 1388 kcal

Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.



  • 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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  1. 1 star
    Tieghan, this recipe did not work out for me at all! Thank goodness you said to taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings. It was inedible. I wonder if the pumpkin I used made the difference? It just tasted bitter. So I quickly converted to a red sauce. I did love the hint of pesto in your version.

    1. Hi Maria,
      So sorry to hear this!! Was there anything you adjusted in the recipe? What kind of pumpkin did you use? Please let me know how I can help! xT

      1. I didn’t change anything, Tieghan. I used canned pumpkin from Trader’s. Given all the rave reviews I will give it another try some time.

  2. Hi Tieghan! This recipe looks amazing. I want to make it as a lasagna for a party I’m having this weekend. Would you make any adjustments or just keep everything the same except the layering? Thanks so much!

    1. Hey Colleen,
      I would probably double the recipe just so you have enough to fill a 9×13 baking dish. I hope you love the recipe, let me know how it turns out! xT

  3. 5 stars
    Dish was delicious and my friends and husband loved it! One of my friends is a vegetarian so I omitted the sausage, split the dish in half to bake it and threw some prosciutto on one of the pans. Both turned out great! Thank you! Do you think this would survive being frozen? Maybe at the point before baking it?

    1. Hey Erin,
      Awesome!!🤩 I truly appreciate you making this recipe and sharing your review and love to hear that it was a hit! Yes, you could totally freeze this before baking! xTieghan

    1. Hey Milanna,
      Happy Sunday! I am delighted to hear that this recipe was enjoyed, thanks so much for making it! xTieghan

    1. Hi Mackenzie,
      Happy Sunday! I am so glad to hear that this recipe turned out well for you, thanks a bunch for making it:)

  4. 5 stars
    This recipe was absolutely amazing I loved it! The only thing I had a bit of an issue with was with the chicken sausage. Wasn’t by favorite protein, what other proteins would you suggest for this? Maybe cut up chicken breast? TIA 🙂

    1. Hi Kalyn,
      Happy Sunday! I am so glad to hear that this recipe turned out well for you, thanks a bunch for making it:) I would do ground sausage!

  5. Great recipe !

    The sauce is quick to put together,
    the pumpkin isn’t to pronounced it’s just perfect.

    Didn’t have vodka so substituted equal amounts of apple cider with a few drops of lime juice, worked perfectly.

    1. Hey Norma,
      Fantastic! I am delighted to hear that this recipe was tasty for you, thanks for making it and sharing your review:) xx

  6. I made it ahead of time for tonight’s dinner …. The sauce taste way too much like vodka… what can i do to tone it down????? Help !!!! Would adding pumpkin help?? I simmered it a lot longer but still have that alcohol taste …

    1. Hi Julie,
      Thanks for trying this recipe, sounds like the vodka needed to be cooked down a bit longer! You could try adding some broth next time! I hope this helps! xx

  7. 4 stars
    Delicious and easy meal! I could only find a 12 oz box of jumbo shells and had just enough filling for that amount. I used mild pork sausage and used broth instead of vodka.

    I didn’t really taste any pumpkin flavor. I absolutely love pesto but I think it overpowered some of the other flavors in the dish so next time I’ll use more pumpkin in the sauce and skip the pesto on top of the shells. All in all yummy and looking forward to eating the leftovers!

    1. Hey Christina,
      Thanks for your comment! Love to hear that this recipe was enjoyed:) Have a great weekend! xxTieghan

  8. What would you suggest as a vodka substitute? I saw chicken broth as an option but would water also work?

    1. Hey Christina,
      Sure, water will also work for you. Let me know if you give this recipe a try, I hope you love it!! xT

    1. Hey Christina,
      You could do broth in place of the vodka. Please let me know if you give the recipe a try, I hope you love it! xTieghan

  9. So yummy! My niece made it for Christmas as a lasagna, just layering all the ingredients. I made it tonight and it was just scrumptious. Thank you so much.

  10. 5 stars
    Delicious!!!! This is one of my faves, I’ve made it a few times. The flavors go so well together. Thank you Tieghan for sharing these delicious recipes!

  11. 5 stars
    So so delicious!! I substituted water with lemon juice for the vodka and manicotti shells (my grocery store didn’t have jumbo shells). I was hesitant about the pumpkin but oh my goodness it was amazing! My husband was raving about this meal! Highly recommend making this!

    1. Hey Caitlin,
      Awesome! It’s so great to hear that this recipe was enjoyed, thanks a lot for making it! Have the best weekend❄️ xTieghan

  12. 4 stars
    The taste is great but there is not enough filling for one pound of shells,nor would a pound fit well in a 9 x13 pan. Where I live shells are sold in 12 ounce boxes and that’s what I used. I had some unfilled shells left over.

    I didn’t have any vodka on hand so I increased the milk and pumpkin just a bit . Broth would work too but I didn’t have any. Thanks for the recipe!

    1. Hey Kim,
      Thanks so much for giving the recipe a try, I am wondering if you used too much filling in your shells? Were there too many for the baking dish? Sorry let me know if I can help in anyway! xTieghan