If you don’t already know, the Mediterranean diet is based on low consumption of meat and poultry, low consumption of refined carbs, high consumption of vegetables and olive oil and high consumption of whole grains. Plus, the adherence to smaller portions makes it one of the healthiest ways to eat. Except on holidays. That’s when all of that gets thrown out the window!
And, that is what makes holidays so great. That’s when you get to eat course after course of fantastic foods and not regret it. You are eating mindfully the rest of the year so on Thanksgiving you get to eat this recipe of pumpkin and ricotta stuffed shells as a FIRST COURSE!
If you are doing Thanksgiving Italian style, and I suggest that you do, it means you eat this rich, decadent pasta and then get to keep eating. Let me give you an example menu of what Thanksgivings are generally like at the Presti house.
Anitpasto- stuffed mushrooms, prosciutto and melon, cheese and olives
First Course- pasta-usually lasagna, cannelloni or the aforementioned pumpkin and ricotta stuffed shells
Second Course- turkey, obviously, but when my father was alive he used to debone the entire turkey and roll it up with stuffing so it could be sliced up like porchetta.
Miscellaneous- also to be found on the table, home made gravy, sliced raw fennel as a way to cut through the rich food and cleanse the palate, some kind of cranberry sauce, grated cheese and some kind of hot pepper like peperoncini.
Dessert- ricotta pie, mince meat pie, cannoli, cassatelli (Sicilian sweet ricotta fried ravioli) biscotti, espresso.
Thank God I was born Italian! Are you kidding me? This is how I grew up eating on the holidays and it was and still is unbelievable. Go to an Italian house on Thanksgiving and you will never want an American Thanksgiving meal again. Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I guess I am just proud of my heritage.
Now, you might not have the ambition to replicate that menu, but a good way to add something different into your traditional Thanksgiving feast is to try these pumpkin and ricotta stuffed shells. It’s actually not very difficult to make, as long as you have things prepped and take your time, it will go rather quickly. And much of it can be done ahead, like the sauces and the squash.
The first thing is to go shopping for the ingredients. But, don’t go out and get a pumpkin. If you are going to cook it from scratch as I did you will need a red Kuri squash. It’s a Hubbard squash. When you get pumpkin in a can for pies or fillings, it is usually a Hubbard squash because the texture is much better than pumpkin which tends to be stringy and fibrous. So, get a red Kuri squash or get a can of plain, un-spiced pumpkin.
This recipe is for 4 people so adjust accordingly if you plan to cook it for more than that. Scroll down for the exact measurements of everything in the recipe box.
I roast about 2 cups of diced squash (you can eat the skin of this squash, so no need to peel) in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until tender. When it is cooled puree it up in a blender or food processor. Put it in a bowl and add some ricotta cheese, nutmeg, ground clove, parmesan cheese and a beaten egg. Mix it well and set it aside. As I mentioned, this can be done ahead by a couple of days.
While the squash is roasting make a béchamel sauce. In a small pot, add some butter and equal parts flour to make a roux. Then add milk and whisk it up with a bay leaf. Keep stirring it so it doesn’t burn to the bottom until it becomes pretty thick. About as thick as a custard or pudding. Then take it off the heat and add some salt and pepper to taste. Usually when I make béchamel, I add some nutmeg at the end, but since there is some in the pumpkin mixture I leave it out this time.
Use your own recipe for a tomato sauce or do what I do. I keep it simple for this and sauté a small onion with a clove of garlic in olive oil and when they are translucent I add some tomato puree and cook for about 15 minute and add some salt and pepper. I don’t do long tomato sauces since I like them to taste like tomato, but especially in this case it isn’t necessary since it will cook in the oven for another 30 minutes with the shells. While the tomato sauce is cooking you can boil the large shells until they are just short of al dente. A little on the undercooked side is ideal since they will absorb the sauce as they cook in the oven and would fall apart if they were totally cooked when you stuff them.
Ladle enough tomato sauce to cover the bottom of your casserole dish with about an inch of sauce. Fill the shells with the pumpkin and ricotta mix and place in a single layer in the casserole. Cover with béchamel and cover with foil. Cook at 375 for 30 minutes.
Really not that difficult, but you can see how it is a special occasion type of dish. It isn’t like you would make these on a Wednesday night. The great part is that they are vegetarian, too, so if there is somebody at the table who passes on the turkey and doesn’t find too many things they can eat, they will be grateful they can indulge in a pasta like this. And anybody who isn’t a vegetarian will love it, too.
Whatever you end up cooking on Thanksgiving, I would love to hear about it. Send me a message on Facebook or Twitter and let me know what you ate. I love seeing what traditions and foods other people are having on the holidays.
I sincerely wish you a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving! From the Presti’s with lots of love!
- 16 large pasta shells
- 2 cups of cubed red Kuri squash, skin on
- 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- ½ cup grated parmesan
- 1 egg
- 1 cup of milk
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 2 tablespoons of flour
- 1 small onion diced
- 1 clove of garlic finely minced
- 2 cups of tomato puree
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon of ground clove
- Salt and pepper
- Heat an oven to 375 degrees and roast the squash in a single layer on a cookie sheet with a drizzle of olive oil.
- Roast for about 15 minute or until tender.
- When done, puree in a blender or food processor and add to a bowl.
- Mix the puree with the ricotta, grated cheese, nutmeg, clove, salt and pepper to taste and egg and set aside.
- For the béchamel, melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium high heat and add the flour stirring and toasting the flour briefly.
- Add the milk and whisk until the lumps are gone. Bring to a low boil, add bay leaf and stir with a wooden spoon until thick like custard and take off the heat and set aside.
- Make a tomato sauce by sautéing the onion and garlic in the olive oil until translucent then add the tomato puree and cook for 15 minutes. Season to taste
- Cover the bottom of a casserole dish with the tomato sauce up to about an inch deep.
- Boil the shells in salted water until they are not even al dente. Not raw but a bit too hard to eat.
- Fill with the pumpkin mix and place in a single layer into the casserole. Cover with the béchamel and cover with foil.
- Bake on center rack in the oven at 375 for 30 minutes.