Saturday, November 19, 2011

Squash-stuffed pasta shells (yes, squash again!)

I write this post under the perfectly arced bow of the ribbon-link garland I created and hung this afternoon. In the dining room, paper snowflakes are twinkling as much as paper can under the glow of eco-friendly bulbs in a cheap ceiling lamp.  This year’s advent calendar is poised to claim the coveted spot on our front door, replacing the three dried corn cobs that are basking in their last few days of fall glory. I’ve argued down the suggestion that we get a 15-foot Christmas tree (displayed sideways) to hang the dozen ornaments Alex and I have collected over the years of being grownups.  Winter craft and decorating season is upon us and the project possibilities seem endless. (I blame pinterest.(...Ive been doing that a lot lately.))
This project buzz has also carried over the proverbial built-in china cabinet to my oven. I’ve finally accepted that a lot of winter foods take more steps to make than the tomato on a plate that kept us satisfied this summer. I’m also super into pasta right now. Thus: A pasta-based project consumed my day off last week, and was in turn consumed for dinner. 
After returning from NYC, I encountered the beets, carrots, and squash that had been part of our CSA delivery last week and still hadn’t made it onto the dinner plate. Something had to be done. But first I’m going to watch daytime television.

What? OLTL is being cancelled. We may never find out how Cole fared in prison. Jessica may never think she is crazy Bess or slutty Tess again. Gigi could die for real, and we’d never know! And what is this “The Chew” that is replacing my stories? Clinton Kelly, say what? Top Chef Carla! …wow, Mario Batali can cook even if he insists on wearing crocs. Sautéed squash submerged in fontina-cream sauce? I have squash! Done and done.

I went to the grocery store to buy cheese and more pretzels for my new mustard—which I didn’t actually buy when, during perusal of the Rold Gold ingredient list, my eyes stuck upon the dreaded “corn syrup”—way to ruin a great snack, Rold Gold. Paul Newman don’t play me like that. Im finna go to another store and get his pretzels sticks. You suck. I kept shopping anyway, taking a shortcut from the deli over to the bread zone and passing through the pasta aisle. That was when I realized: Not only did something have to be done, but something had to be stuffed. 
Jumbo shells! Stuffed with roasted squash mash. Smothered in fontina alfredo. And baked until golden. Let’s do this.
I began by roasting the squash (drizzled with oil, and generously salt and peppered) in the 400-ish oven for 45 minutes or so. Times and temperatures will vary when you use an oven that cares about the reputation it maintains. Meanwhile, I boiled the jumbo shells in salted water for one less minute than directed, to ensure that they didn’t get mushy during the baking portion of the event.
In a saucepan, I melted two tablespoons of butter and added two tablespoons of flour. Next came two cups of milk (2 percent was on hand). Whisk this to remove any lumps. Once the roux thickened, I added freshly grated nutmeg and ground pepper. Then I removed the pan from the heat and mixed in 3 ounces of fontina and a Michael Jordan-sized handful of parmesan. Salt to taste.
The last step was to fill the shells with the squashed squash, arrange them nicely in a baking dish, and top them with the cheese sauce.  Into the oven at 350-ish for 30 minutes or so. And enjoy!
The recipe still needs work. I think most crucially: ricotta must be cut into the jumbo shell filling to anchor the dish squarely in the savory. Also to promote proper texture and deliciousness. It was good, hitting notes of warmth and sweet and buttery goodness, but could definitely be improved.

In other news: It turns out my distaste for squash couldn’t survive at this latitude if I wanted to survive the winter on local produce. There’s not much else on offer at the moment. The only variety available is in the different types of apples, root vegetables, hearty greens, and, of course, gourds.
You know what this means, right? I’m going to have to give spinach another shot. Le sigh. At least it’s a good time to start a project.


  1. this looks very delicious, I want to try this with my next pumpkin! :)

  2. Wish I could eat those shells! JUMBO SHELLS: one the most genius creations ever?

    I am also super inspired by your winter decorations! Seen anything on pinterest that I could do in our sunroom? We are putting the tree in there this year too...

    P.S. The finna and Paul Newman paragraph slayed me.