Unstuffed Pasta Shells with Butternut Squash

This unstuffed pasta shells with butternut squash is a one-pan meal that cooks pasta with squash and leeks in a cream sauce, and tops the whole shebang with lemon-infused ricotta.

A skillet filled with unstuffed pasta shells with butternut squash on a wooden board with a spoon resting inside.

Cheesy jumbo stuffed shells have an undeniable appeal, but preboiling and stuffing individual shells can be an ordeal. We set out to develop an easy, unstuffed version in which the pasta cooked directly in the sauce. We quickly determined the right ratio of liquid to shells to ensure perfectly cooked noodles, but finding the ideal amount of vegetables proved trickier.

Cooking butternut squash and leeks in a creamy sauce promised a hearty vegetarian meal, but if we used too much of either vegetable, the skillet was prone to overflowing; too little, however, and the servings looked meager. We settled on 1-1/2 pounds of butternut squash and 1 pound of leeks. Cooking the squash and leeks briefly before adding the pasta and liquid deepened the vegetable’s flavors and ensured that the pasta and squash would finish cooking at the same time.

Instead of stuffing the shells with cheese, we sprinkled some Parmesan on top and dolloped a rich lemon-ricotta mixture over everything. Then, we slid the skillet into the oven to brown and melt the cheesy toppings. The skillet will be very full when you add the shells in step 4 (stir gently to start) but will become more manageable as the liquid evaporates and the shells become more malleable. You’ll need a 12‑inch ovensafe ­nonstick skillet for this recipe.–America’s Test Kitchen

What other pasta shapes can I use in this recipe?

You can substitute large or medium shells, ziti, farfalle, campanelle, or orecchiette for the jumbo shells here.

Unstuffed Pasta Shells with Butternut Squash

  • Quick Glance
  • (1)
  • 45 M
  • 1 H, 5 M
  • Serves 6
5/5 - 1 reviews
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Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 375°F (191°C).

In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan, lemon zest, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

In an oven-safe, nonstick skillet that measures at least 12-inches (30-cm) in diameter over medium heat, warm the oil until shimmering, 2 to 3 minutes. Add squash, leeks, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook until leeks are softened, 5 to 10 minutes.

Stir in the garlic and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the wine and cook until almost completely evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir in the water and cream, then add the pasta and bring to a vigorous simmer. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook, stirring gently and often, until the pasta is tender and liquid has thickened, about 15 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan over top, then dollop evenly with ricotta mixture. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until Parmesan is melted and spotty brown, 8 to 10 minutes.

Let cool for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with basil and serve.

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Recipe Testers' Reviews

This was absolutely delicious. It's incredibly easy to throw together, but it feels so fancy and decadent (the cream! the wine! the cheese!) that it would probably be something I’d make for guests on the weekend.

My household of three loved it, and everyone went back for more. I would, and will, definitely make this again. I might try cutting back on the cream and adding some broth to the mix next time, just to see how lightening it up would work out.

This is a tasty and easy pasta with a lot of great flavors. The butternut squash and the leeks complement each other, and the lemon zest in the ricotta adds a nice bright zing. I didn't get much cayenne flavor so will increase that next time. I might even add sausage to make it extra hearty.

The water should be reduced by at least a cup so the sauce thickens better, you can always add more water as you go. I doubled the recipe so I can have good stuff to take to work so it took a while to make, and I used a 9 1/2 quart Dutch oven to hold everything.

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