Every year I suffer from the syndrome of good intentions. I want to transform my home into a winter wonderland of beauty and wonder, bake dozens of cookies to gift to friends and handcraft each and every item I gift.
The month of December is one where I run around like a chicken with my head cut off, snarling at everyone to just stay out of my way. I want to enjoy the holiday and my family so I’m trying to pick just a few projects and keep things simple. However we are hosting a large party in a few weeks so I’ll let you know how that goes.
Having dishes that I can prepare ahead of time and freeze really helps out with staying on task. This is a dish that makes a pretty fair amount and I usually make extra so that I can take it out of the freezer and have a home cooked meal on the table without any preparation.
The shells are stuffed with a mixture of ricotta, Parmesan and Swiss chard. The chard adds a nice texture and helps lighten the dish a bit. You can serve them with your favorite tomato sauce but this butternut squash sauce is sublime. Rich, creamy and slightly sweet I can eat it by the spoonful. The addition of the apple cider vinegar really brightens the flavors and balances the natural sweetness of the squash. I think I might try just tossing it with a little spaghetti next time and adding a few fried sage leaves and hazelnuts.
I hope you all a sane and beautiful holiday. Enjoy your friends and family and don’t worry about everything being perfect.
- For the sauce:
- 1 medium butternut squash (about 1 ½ pounds)
- ½ medium red onion, diced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon red chili flakes
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup chicken or vegetable stock
- ½ cup half-and-half
- salt and pepper to taste
- For the filling:
- 1 pound Swiss chard
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 15-ounce container ricotta cheese
- 1 egg, beaten
- ¼ teaspoon finely grated nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup grated mozzarella
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 20-25 jumbo dried pasta shells
- Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Using a large, sharp knife, trim the ends of the squash and cut it in half lengthwise. Peel with a vegetable peeler. With a spoon, scoop out the seeds and discard. On a baking sheet toss the butternut squash and onion with the olive oil, chili flakes and salt. Roast until the squash is tender, about 30 minutes, tossing occasionally.
- Transfer squash to a food processor or high-speed blender. Add apple cider vinegar, chicken stock and half and half, process until smooth adding a little more stock if needed to thin if necessary. Taste, and season with salt and pepper as desired.
- Cook the shells according to directions in well-salted water until al dente. Drain and let cool enough to handle with your hands. Lightly oil a large baking dish or several smaller dishes.
- To make the filling, combine the ricotta, egg, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.
- Remove the stems from the Swiss chard and finely chop and slice the rest of the leaves into ribbons. Add the chard stems to a medium skillet with the tablespoon of olive oil. Sauté for a few minutes until they start to soften and then add the rest of the chard and cook until wilted. Let cool slightly before adding to the ricotta mixture.
- Spread a ⅓ of the sauce across the bottom of a lightly oiled 9x13 inch baking dish or several smaller dishes. Fill each shell with the ricotta mixture and arrange in a single layer in the pan. Ladle the remaining sauce over the shells, cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, uncover for the last 15 minutes or until the shells are hot and cooked through. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and serve.