• Abby Estevez

Butternut Squash & Caramelized Onion Stuffed Shells

I have been dreaming about making this dish, and so happy I finally got around to it!

Pretty easy, but it is a long cook - a perfect meal for your next "Meatless Monday" this Fall.


Please do not procrastinate on making this like I did...


Butternut Squash & Caramelized Onion Stuffed Shells

Serves 4


Stuffed Shells

1 pound jumbo shells

1/3 cup gruyere, shredded

1/3 cup or less parmesan cheese, shredded


Butternut Squash

1 large to medium sized butternut squash, large diced

1 1/2 teaspoons garlic minced, about 3-4 cloves in total

2 teaspoons fresh thyme

2 teaspoons fresh rosemary

1/2 - 1 teaspoon cayenne, depends on your taste!

- for this recipe I leaned a little heavier on the cayenne and it brought a wonderful smokey,

very mild heat to the final taste, which balanced with the nutty flavor of the gruyere!

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup ricotta cheese

Salt and pepper


Caramelized Onion

1 large sweet vidalia onion OR 2 small yellow onions

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/3 cup of water

1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Pinch of salt


Béchamel Sauce

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 teaspoon olive oil

6-8 fresh sage leaves

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 1/2 cups of whole milk

Pinch of nutmeg

1/3 cup gruyere, shredded


Kitchen Equipment:

  • Sheet tray

  • Medium sauté pan

  • Large pot

  • Colander (pasta drainer)

  • Food processor

  • Baking dish - like a casserole dish, pie plate even would work (if making a smaller portion), glass or ceramic works best.


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Safely and carefully remove the rind of the butternut squash and large dice (cut into bite size cubes). On a baking sheet, toss the butternut squash with the garlic, thyme, rosemary, cayenne, olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Transfer to the oven and roast for 20-25 minutes, or until the butternut squash is lightly browned.


While the butternut squash is cooking, prepare your caramelized onions. Cut the onion in half, from the root down, and then with the onion on it's cut side down place your fingers curled down on the root end. Slice into the onion at a "V" shape angle; beginning furthest from you and working towards you, creating a "V".


Typically, I don't shed a single tear when I work with onions, but for some reason I was hit with MAJOR waterworks for this onion... not very attractive.

Using a medium sauté pan over medium-low heat, heat up 1 teaspoon of olive oil (just enough to coat the bottom of the pan), and add in 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter. Once the butter has melted and starting to bubble, add in your onions. Stir to ensure they are all coated, then reduce the heat to low and allow them to cook on their own, stirring occasionally for about 6 minutes.


The onions should be translucent and perhaps begin to stick to the bottom of the pan, sprinkle a pinch of salt over top and add in 1/3 cup of water. Stir through and then let sit for another 15-20 minutes on low heat, stirring occasionally. Each time you stir the onions, be sure to scrape the great brown stuff (fond) off the bottom of the pan. This adds the best flavor and richness to your onions.


Once the onions are browned to your liking, add in 1-2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to de-glaze the pan, which will pick up all that delicious brown flavor stuck to the bottom. Let the onions sit till the vinegar burns off, about 3-5 additional minutes.


By now, the butternut squash should be done roasting; remove from oven and set aside in a food processor. Once your onions are done, add them to the butternut squash.

Pulse the onions and butternut squash on high for about 30 seconds to a minutes, till it forms a slightly chunky mixture. Set aside to cool.


Turn oven down to 350 degrees.

Put on a pot of salted water to begin boiling the shells, cook per the instructions on the box to al dente. About 9 minutes. Once shells are done and ready to drain, reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water and set aside. Run the shells under some cold water so they are easier to handle.


While the shells cook; to the butternut squash and onions, mix in a cup of ricotta cheese. This is the completed stuffing for the shells...Before we begin stuffing, let's make the béchamel sauce!

To a high sided sauce pan, melt 1 tablespoon unsalted butter with 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat. Once the butter is fully melted, add the sage leaves. Allow them to fry for about 2 minutes, flipping halfway through. Set aside on a paper towel till the end.


To the high sided sauce pan, add the 1/4 cup butter and melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour for one minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer about 5 minutes, until the sauce begins to show signs of thickening , continue whisking every few seconds. Whisk in the nutmeg and gruyere, now the sauce should be visibly thicker. Season with salt and pepper to taste.Turn off heat and allow to cool slightly.


Take a large spoonful of the béchamel sauce and coat the bottom of your baking dish.

Gently with a small spoon, stuff each pasta shell with the butternut squash mixture till full and add to the baking dish one at a time.

Once your baking dish is full of stuffed shells, pour remaining sauce over.

*If your sauce thickened up behind your back while you were stuffing shells, not to worry! Turn the heat back up to a medium-low and add a tablespoon of pasta water, whisk over the heat till it thins back out. Pour sauce over your stuffed shells.



Sprinkle parmesan cheese and remaining 1/3 cup of gruyere over top, then add baking dish to the oven. Allow them to cook for 15-18 minutes, or till the sauce is bubbling and the cheese begins to brown. Remove from oven, top with the crispy sage leaves and enjoy!


Serve about 4 shells per person along with a side of your favorite veggies!



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