Pasta shells stuffed with herb-roasted winter squash and Parmigiano Reggiano, over a layer of rich marinara tomato sauce and blanketed in a cheesy, no-cook white sauce.
Winter is calling, and this family-friendly baked pasta recipe is the answer.
Pottering in the kitchen, with the drizzle steadily falling on already soggy ground, is an especial delight at this time of year. I love cooking and experimenting with whole foods at any time, but these damp, low-lit days are when home cooking really comes into its own. Without the attractive distractions of sipping wine at a pavement cafe, or merrily pulling weeds in the veg plot, orchestrating several simmering pots into dinner is such a tonic.
As a Floridian at heart I have never gotten used to the low light and damp of a British winter. Despite the thickest wool socks and all lights and candles blazing, a British winter is not my cup of tea. So I am very fortunate that cooking is my cure for the winter blues. And nothing cures like pasta.
At other times of the year pasta scarcely gets a look-in on the food to glow dinner menu. However, as a seasonal eater I can’t help but succumb to the comfort of carbs as the thermometer and light head southwards. Such dishes, along with stir-fries, curries and savory bakes, sustain and nourish.
I was more than delighted when I was approached by Parmigiano Reggiano to create a trio of recipes for the festive season. This first recipe, one that can be prepped in stages or shoved in the fridge to bake when needed, will be joined by two very easy side dishes fit for the Christmas or winter table. Please look out for them over the coming two weeks, especially if you have some gaps in your festive menu planning. If you get a proper hunk of real Parmigiano Reggiano, it will cover you for all three recipes.
And this brings me to a point on authenticity.
Why is Parmigiano Reggiano the only real parmesan?
Real Parmigiano Reggiano is, under EU law, a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) product. Within the European Union, Parmigiano Reggiano is the only hard cheese that can legally be called Parmesan. In many areas outside of Europe, the name has become a generic shorthand and is used by a number of hard Italian-style grating cheeses – even if Parmesan literally means ‘from Parma’. However, Parmigiano Reggiano is ‘the only Parmesan’ as it is made in a restricted geographic area using stringently defined methods and according to PDO regulations pertaining to special characteristics.
Is proper Parmigiano Reggiano really worth buying?
I was lucky enough to to have 2 kg of Parmesan cheese to work with and test. Over the days I was actively working on my recipes I found myself nibbling away at stray chunks. As did Andrew. That is completely out of character. For him. 🙂
The taste is rich, nutty, and only slightly salty – actually properly umami, hence all of the unrestrained nibbling. Inferior Parmesan-alikes are only one-note affairs – either aggressively salty or full-on nutty.
And the texture of the real thing is gorgeously grainy and crumbly under a knife, falling away in shards. Snapped by hand it breaks into pleasing grainy hunks. This is a far cry from the somewhat waxy-oily texture of even good non-PDO Italian-style hard cheeses. In our opinion, it’s definitely worth getting the real thing.
*Just a note, Parmigiano Reggiano is not vegetarian. If you want to make this suitable for a vegetarian diet use one of those Italian-style hard cheeses I was slightly dissing above. 😉 Even still, purchase one that clearly states that it is suitable for vegetarians. Or use nutritional yeast.*
For further information go to Parmigiano Reggiano.
This is a sponsored post. I only write about products and services that I use and love.
Are you putting pasta on your weekly dinner menu? Have you ever tried a stuffed pasta dish? Do you appreciate eating “proper” Parmesan? Are you a nibbler as you cook? 🙂
Roasted Squash and Parmigiano Reggiano Stuffed Pasta
A rich but light squash, pasta and Parmigiano Reggiano recipe, with a simple tomato sauce. Ideal for a family dinner or festive entertaining.
- 1 kg Crown Prince squash or other hard squash, like butternut
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 fat garlic cloves skin on
- 6 sage leaves
- 35 g dry breadcrumbs I use panko
- 100 g Parmigiano Reggiano cheese grated
- Zest of one lemon
- 8 sage leaves chopped
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg more if not freshly grated
- 175 g large pasta shells about 2/3 typical box
- 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves or 1 tsp dried
- 700 g jarred tomatoes chopped
- 1 tsp Balsamic vinegar optional
- salt, pepper and honey to taste
No-cook Parmigiano Reggiano Sauce
- 100 g Parmigiano Reggiano grated
- 3 tbsp créme fraîche
- 1 tbsp milk
- extra grated Parmigiano Reggiano to serve
- chopped parsley to serve
Heat the oven to 180C fan/200C/400F. Cut the squash into about 8 slices, removing the seeds and rubbing the slices and garlic with the oil. Lay on a baking tray, tucking the sage leaves under. Roast in the hot oven for 40 minutes, turning once.
Scoop the soft squash flesh into a food processor along with the garlic (pop from its skins first), Parmigiano Reggiano, fresh and roasted sage leaves, lemon zest and nutmeg. Blend just until mixed; add the bread crumbs and pulse until mixed - or hand mix them in. Scrape this mixture into a bowl and set aside. May be refrigerated and used within three days at this point.
Heat the oil over a low-medium flame and add the onion, sauting for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and thyme leaves, cooking for a further two minutes. Pour in the tomatoes and their juices and cook for 20 minutes, so that it is just bubbling. Add in balsamic vinegar if using then taste for seasoning, adding salt, pepper and honey/sugar if you wish. I sometimes add a pinch of dried vegetable bouillon. Blend or mash to make it mostly smooth but with some texture. Or leave as chunky.
Cook pasta as directed, drain and rinse with water. Leave to cool a bit.
No-cook Parmigiana Reggiano white sauce
Mix the ingredients together and set aside. You want a loose, pourable sauce so adjust as needed to achieve this.
Assemble and Bake
Turn the oven down to 160C fan/180C/350F.
To assemble the dish for baking, pour the marinara sauce into a shallow, wide baking dish. Take the cooked pasta shells and spoon the mixture evenly into each one, placing them in the dish as you fill them. Once filled, pour the white sauce over and bake in a oven for 20 minutes, or until the white sauce is lightly browned in patches. Pull from the oven and serve with extra grated Parmigiano Reggiano and chopped parsley.
*You may of course use your own tomato sauce or a bought one.
*The squash mixture and tomato sauce can be made ahead of time. Use within three days if fresh, or use from frozen within one month for best taste and texture. Defrost before use.
*You may assemble the whole dish one day in advance. Cover tightly and refrigerate.
*To make this suitable for a soft food diet, use well-cooked orzo pasta (it looks like rice) and layer up before baking.
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