Pumpkin Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells

Try this pasta dish packed with fall flavor!

Typically we think of pumpkin in dessert form – pie, latte, cookie, etc. Or maybe that’s just me and my sweet tooth talking. Either way, today’s dish helped me see pumpkin in a whole new savory light!

These Pumpkin Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells are just as mouthwatering as they sound. What’s not to love about a name like that? This is the perfect dish for when you’re craving Italian but also want to take advantage of fall flavors like pumpkin while they’re readily available.

This meal is a little more involved than regular shells and sauce, but I think you’ll agree it’s well worth the effort. I’d say this recipe is closer to the prep work of lasagna, just to give you an idea of the workload. Don’t tell anyone, but I think I like this dish more than lasagna. There, I said it. I won’t take it back.

Now that we’ve established the hierarchy of my personal pasta preferences, let’s dig into the recipe itself. There’s pumpkin puree, which you probably already guessed, as well as pesto. You might not put these two together, but trust me, it all works out in the end!

Along with those main ingredients, we have ground chicken sausage, bell peppers, whole milk, and three kinds of cheeses. You read that right. This recipe certainly lives up to the “Cheese Stuffed” part of its name!

Like I said before, the assembly process is much like lasagna. Brown the sausage and create the sauce with pumpkin, milk, pepper, and spices. While the sauce is thickening, cook the shells according to package directions. Mix ricotta and fontina cheese together along with the pesto and spoon this mixture into the shells. Place shells into a baking dish, pour the sauce over everything, and top with mozzarella! All that’s left to do is bake for about 20 minutes.

Pumpkin Pesto Cheese Stuffed Shells

Makes 6 Servings Prep 20m  Cook 25m

Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound ground chicken sausage
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound jumbo shells
  • 16 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups shredded fontina cheese
  • 3/4 cup basil pesto
  • 8 ounces shredded mozzarella
  • Fresh basil, for serving
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Preparation
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly grease a 9x13 inch baking dish, set aside.
  2. Add oil to a large pot on medium-high heat and brown chicken sausage. Reduce heat to low, then add bell pepper, pumpkin, vodka, milk, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly.
  3. Add oil to a large pot on medium-high heat and brown chicken sausage. Reduce heat to low, then add bell pepper, pumpkin, vodka, milk, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly.
  4. While sauce is thickening, cook the pasta according to package instructions.
  5. Combine ricotta, fontina, and 1/2 cup pesto in a medium bowl.
  6. Combine ricotta, fontina, and 1/2 cup pesto in a medium bowl.
  7. To assemble, spoon 3/4 of the pumpkin sauce into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Working with one pasta shell at a time, spoon about 1 tablespoon of the cheese mixture into each shell, placing the filled shell into the baking dish as you go.
  8. To assemble, spoon 3/4 of the pumpkin sauce into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Working with one pasta shell at a time, spoon about 1 tablespoon of the cheese mixture into each shell, placing the filled shell into the baking dish as you go.
  9. Spoon the remaining pumpkin sauce over top of the shells and then drizzle the remaining 1/4 cup pesto evenly over everything. Sprinkle mozzarella on top.
  10. Spoon the remaining pumpkin sauce over top of the shells and then drizzle the remaining 1/4 cup pesto evenly over everything. Sprinkle mozzarella on top.
  11. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese has melted and is lightly browned on top. Serve with fresh basil. Enjoy!
  12. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese has melted and is lightly browned on top. Serve with fresh basil. Enjoy!

Half baked Harvest