Thursday, December 27, 2012

Lunch Week 35: Butternut Squash Stuffed Pasta Shells

So every Sunday, I head over to the kitchen to whip up a big batch of food for lunch the next week. Yes, I brown bag. And I almost always do it every week unless I become too busy to even buy cold cuts from the deli. I do it for several reasons being health, finance, and laziness. Now, you may think that spending hours on a day off to prep and cook five meals at once is hardly lazy. But let me remind you, I hate it when the time comes to decide what to eat for lunch every day. I work in Midtown so the choices are endless. My problem, the more choices, the harder it is for me. So it's much easier for me to have my lunch ready and already decided.

So my lunch for the week: Butternut Squash Stuffed Pasta Shells
I recently baked a pumpkin pie using butternut squash as the filling. The pie only called for 1 lb of pulp but the squash was over 5 pounds. So obviously I was left over with a lot of butternut. I'm no person to throw it out. My next though was to freeze it but instead, I decided to use it for my lunch. It's best when fresh. After freezing, it looses some of its robust flavor. At first I thought about doing a lasagna or a baked ziti. I've made those before with some success. But to twist it up a bit, I decided to make stuffed shells instead.

To the butternut squash pulp, I added shredded smoked mozzarella. I thought the smokiness would work will with sweetness of the squash. I mixed it well and seasoned it to taste.
I boiled off some large pasta shells in salted water until just softened enough. Make sure not to cook them too soft or they will easily break. They'll continue cooking in the oven. I filled each shell with the squash and cheese mixture making sure not to overstuff each one.
On the stove, I cooked marinara sauce with ground pork and sauteed onions. Something about pork and butternut squash screams autumn to me. You can use any kind of ground meat you like but I think pork or turkey would work best here.
I layered the sauce on top of the shells until even.
Then I sprinkled bread crumbs and parmgiana cheese on top.
I baked it off in the oven until the cheese was melted in the shells and the dish was cohesive.
I love ingredients that just go well together in nontraditional ways. Sure I'm used to roasted pork tenderloins with a side of roasted squash. This pasta dish was the perfect marriage for these flavors without making the same thing over and over again. The smoked mozzarella was a bit overpowering though. It made the whole dish smoky. I wanted to taste the nuances of the squash, pork, and marinara more. Regular mozzarella next time.

Butternut Squash Stuffed Pasta Shells
1 4lb butternut squash
1 tbsp canola oil
1/2 lb mozzarella, shredded
1 medium onion, chopped
1lb ground pork
1lb large dried pasta shells
1 qt marinara sauce
1 cup mix of bread crumbs and parmigiana cheese
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 375oF.
1. Slice butternut squash in half lengthwise. Scoop seeds out. Rub oil all over squash. Place squash cut side down on sheet pan and roast in oven for 45-60 minutes. To test if squash is ready, take a fork and poke into thickest part of the flesh. If it easily slips through, then it is ready.
2. Remove squash from oven and scrap flesh out of skin using a spoon. Let cool until ready to handle with bare hands.
3. While the squash cools, cook pasta in salted boiling water until softened but not al dente yet. It should still hold its own shape. Drain and toss with olive oil to prevent sticking. Let cool.
4. When squash is cooled, add shredded mozzarella cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Open pasta shells with one hand, and fill with squash and cheese mixture using spoon. Layer evenly in a baking dish.
6. In a saute pan, add olive oil and saute onions until soft. Season with salt and pepper. Add ground pork and saute until cooked through and browned. Add marinara sauce, season with salt and pepper. Cook for another 5 minutes until sauce is homogeneous.
7. Pour sauce over stuffed shells in baking dish. Then top with bread crumbs and parmigiana cheese.
8. Bake in oven until sauce bubbles about 30 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly. Serve while still hot.

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