Stuffed shells are a compromise of a dish. They’re cheesy and delicious like lasagna, but more filling-oriented and neater to eat, like an overenthusiastic tortellini. (Just pretend the simile makes sense, okay? Thanks.) As far as compromise goes, they’re often the best of both worlds. After all, you could never fit this much squash into one bite of lasagna, and tortellini is finicky to make at home.
These shells are a great weeknight dinner, especially when you’re dealing with a chilly February in Texas. At least the metroplex isn’t iced under and terrified this year–those of us who live in the South have no idea how to handle even small doses of below freezing weather, nor should we have to. It’s the American South. It has a contract with its residents that temperatures will never drop below 50° F, and we’ll all speak in accents the rest of the world can mock. There are rules.
At any rate, even though my pumpkin supply has been tragically cut off for the year, acorn squash is still abundant and we’re a long way still from the summer days when I poke sadly at zucchini and wonder why it still gets to be called squash when it lacks all the good squash qualities. Acorn squash is sweeter than pumpkin, and a bit stringier, but still brilliantly orange and velvety. Combined with tangy goat cheese and bitter, crunchy kale, it makes a perfect filling for the shells.
Ingredients (serves 4-6)
18 jumbo shells, cooked
1/2 of an acorn squash
2 T butter
1 bunch kale
4 oz goat cheese
2-3 T marscapone
1/2 lb mozzarella, grated (divided use)
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 400°F and get out your squash. These things can be a little intimidating to cut into, as they are quite hard, but if you just give it a really good whack with a nice heavy knife, you’ll be all right. Just use a sturdy cutting board and pretend you’re chopping wood.
Chop it in half and scoop out the tasty, tasty seeds.
Peel it and chop into half-inch dice. Spread the squash in a baking pan and dot with the 2 T of butter and a sprinkling of salt.
Roast at 400° F for 20-30 minutes, until the flesh is translucent and the edges just begin to caramelize. You could alternately cook the squash in a cast iron pan on the stove over high heat for 10-15 minutes, for a lot more browning. I will almost certainly do that next time, as it is both quicker and more flavorful.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. Set the squash aside and prepare the kale. Cut the central ribs out of the leaves and lay the leaves on top of each other in a stack.
Roll that stack up tightly and slice it into thin ribbons (this is called chiffonade, for those of you who are interested).
Toss the squash, kale, goat cheese, marscapone, and half of the mozzarella in a bowl and mix well.
Arrange the cooked shells in a buttered baking dish and stuff each one with as much filling as it will hold. Or a little more. I won’t judge.
Top the stuffed shells with the remaining 1/4 pound of mozzarella and a thorough sprinkling of Parmesan.
Wrap the dish snugly in tin foil and pop it in the oven for 30 minutes.
Remove the foil and bake another five minutes or so, just to get some nice browning on top.
Serve with steamed broccoli and ciabatta.
This is just as tasty the next day, although the crunchy Parmesan lace is somewhat diminished by microwaving. It’s gooey and salty and just a touch sweet all at once, which makes it the perfect cure for just about any craving you may be having right about now.