Congrats to everyone who ran the NYC Marathon yesterday!!! Extra special shout out to Joanne and everyone from my running group who was out there, especially Deirdre. D ran the Chicago Marathon three weeks ago and she had a killer race in New York yesterday. Is she a rockstar, or what?! She deserves a beer….and, a giant plate of stuffed shells!
I ran the NYC Marathon in 2010. It was my one and only marathon (so far) and a tough day, to say the least. Despite the race not going as planned, I didn’t immediately swear off marathons forever. I’m pretty sure that was just as shocking for me as it was for everyone who saw me running that day. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t ready to register for another marathon anytime soon, but I knew I was capable of running a stronger race and I wanted a better day out there. One day.
Well, I think that day will be sometime next year. Maybe you’re thinking that I’m still caught up in “marathon fever” from yesterday. That’s part of it, for sure. I also feel hugely motivated by L, who in the past year has gone from reluctantly running with me, to become a strong, fast runner, falling in love with this sport, and feeling ready to take on the challenge of a marathon.
I’m also kind of in it for the carbs, let’s not kid ourselves.
Whether you’re training for a marathon or not, I think Butternut Squash and Kale Stuffed Shells need to be in your dinner rotation! These shells are all about the filling! It combines (mashed) roasted butternut squash, sauteed shredded kale, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, along with the perfect compliment of herbs and spices – sage, nutmeg and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Since the squash is such a huge part of the filling, these stuffed shells are way healthier than traditional stuffed shells, filled mostly with cheese.
Either bake your shells in individual serving size baking dishes (I recommend four stuffed shells per person) or use one large baking dish.
If you’re like L and love tomato sauce, I think that works as a topping for this dinner. Although, my first choice is a creamy bechamel sauce! The bechamel is mild enough that the butternut squash and kale remain the stars of this dinner.
2 cups kale (about 1 small bunch), center rib removed & shredded
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons dried sage
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup chicken (or vegetable) stock
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Toss butternut squash cubes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of salt and fresh ground pepper. Spread evenly, in a single layer, across a large baking sheet. Cook for 30 minutes, or until squash is very soft and tender. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the shells and cook until al dente, about 12 minutes. Drain pasta in a colander and hold until ready to use. Toss shells with a tiny bit of olive oil to prevent them from sticking together.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the kale and garlic, stir to coat and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale is wilted, about 8 minutes.
Add the butternut squash to a large bowl and mash with a fork. Add the cooked kale, ricotta, 1 cup of mozzarella, nutmeg, sage and cayenne pepper, and mix together until well combined. Taste, and season with salt and pepper if necessary.
There are two ways to fill the shells. Either spoon the filling directly into the shells. Or, spoon the filling into a pastry bag or large Ziploc bag, cut one of the corners off the bag and pipe the filling into the shells. I find using the pastry/Zipoc bag easier and faster.
Pour the chicken stock into a large baking dish (or divide amongst smaller baking dishes), and arrange the shells in the dish. Top with shells with the remaining mozzarella cheese. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 25 minutes.
Store extra stuffed shells in the refrigerator for 3-4 days or freeze for up to a few months.
These shells freeze really well. For the shells that you plan to freeze, fill them but do not bake them. Store the filled shells in a freezer safe container, and add a piece of wax paper between each layer of shells.