When the snow starts flurrying, it's time to start cooking meals that are warm and cozy! While I love a basic lasagna, there's just something a bit more exciting about using shell pasta with a creamy homemade pumpkin marinara. It's basically the same steps as making a lasagna, only the ricotta is stuffed into shells instead of layered with noodles. A small swap that definitely ups the elegance of this comfort food!
Ingredients for Ricotta Stuffed Shells
30 ounces full fat ricotta, or dairy free substitute
2 egg yolks
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, grated, or dairy free substitute
1 pound sausage, browned until fully cooked
½ medium yellow onion, sautéed with the sausage until translucent
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning, or fresh basil, oregano and rosemary
1 package shell pasta, cooked al dente according to package instructions
Ingredients for Pumpkin Marinara
30 ounces of pumpkin puree, 2 cans
½ medium yellow onion, chopped and sautéed
1 garlic clove, minced and sautéed
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning, or use fresh basil, oregano & rosemary
½ heavy cream, or nondairy substitute like coconut milk
½ cup water
How to make hearty ricotta stuffed shells with creamy pumpkin marinara
There are five parts to making these stuffed shells:
- Browning the meat || Preheat a cast iron skillet over medium heat until it is evenly hot but not smoking. Add the onions and sausage and cook until the meat is fully browned and the onions are translucent.
- Making the filling & Marinara || Combine the ricotta, seasonings, cheese and meat in a mixing bowl. Sautee the remaining half of onion and the garlic in olive oil until translucent. In a blender or mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin puree, heavy cream, water, sautéed garlic, onion and seasonings.
- Cooking the shells || Boil the shells al dente according to the package instructions. Strain the shells and lay them on a tea towel.
- Stuffing the shells || Using a two inch dough scoop, fill the cooked shells with the meat and cheese filling.
- Baking || Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. The cheese will be bubbly and browned when it is ready to eat!
Could this be made with lasagna noodles?
Yes! This ricotta filling is the exact same one I use for my regular lasagna recipe.
Let me take this answer one step further. Oven-ready lasagna noodles are one of the best timesaving kitchen tricks I have ever found. Not only do they save a time by skipping the boiling step, it's also realllllly nice not to have one more dirty stockpot to wash.
Can regular marinara be substituted for the pumpkin marinara?
Are you team pumpkin or team tomato when it comes to marinara sauce? I will forever be stuck in the middle. Most of the time, I prefer a good tomato based pasta sauce, but once in a while I find myself craving something out of the ordinary. This recipe can absolutely be made with a traditional marinara sauce if you are wanting to stick with something more familiar.
Variations to this recipe
While we've already discussed substituting lasagna noodles for shell pasta and pasta sauce for the pumpkin marinara, I have a few more tasty ways to enjoy this recipe!
If I happen to have bruschetta on hand, this filling and sauce is sooo good slathered on a piece of bread and broiled in the oven until bubbly and crispy. It's like having bite-sized lasagna without the noodles. This is also a handy way to use up any leftover filling.
Can I freeze lasagna or stuffed shells?
Absolutely! In fact, I highly recommend freezing half for a future meal. Because this makes such a generous amount of food, my family of five can easily get two meals out of it. When I make lasagna or stuffed shells, I make a 9X9 to eat for supper, plus a foil pan that I freeze uncooked for later.
When I am freezing a lasagna or stuffed shells, I cook the meat and sauté the onions as normal. Instead of baking the casserole and then freezing it, I freeze it fully assembled but uncooked. Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to a week or frozen immediately for 3-6 months.
To reheat a frozen casserole, I prefer to place the frozen dish in the refrigerator the night before to safely defrost. If this step is skipped, it will need to bake an additional thirty minutes to an hour.
When it is time to bake, I cover the casserole with foil and bake it at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes. At this point, I check the internal temperature with a thermometer. I let it finish cooking uncovered until it reaches an internal temperature of 180 degrees, about fifteen more minutes.
If you make this recipe, please leave a comment below! This provides helpful feedback to both me and other readers. For more delicious recipes from scratch and homesteading tips, follow me on instagram @NinnescahHomestead
Hearty Ricotta Cheese Stuffed Shells With Creamy Pumpkin Marinara
- 9X13 baking dish
- Mixing bowl
- stock pot or large sauce pan
Ingredients for ricotta stuffed shells
- 30 ounces ricotta cheese
- 2 egg yolks
- 8 ounces mozzarella cheese grated
- 1 pound sausage browned
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1 package shell pasta al dente
- olive oil for drizzling
- salt and pepper to taste
Ingredients for pumpkin marinara
- 30 ounces pumpkin puree 2 cans
- 1 yellow onion
- 1 garlic clove
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- ½ cup heavy cream
- ½ cup water
- olive oil for drizzling
- Preheat a cast iron skillet over medium heat until it is evenly hot but not smoking. Add the chopped yellow onion and sautéed until translucent. Once the onion is cooked, remove it from the skillet. Stir in the sausage and brown the meat until it is fully cooked.
- In a medium sized mixing bowl, stir together the ricotta, half of the grated mozzarella, Italian seasonings, egg yolks, sausage and onion.
- Boil the shell pasta according to the al dente instructions on the package. Once the shells are done, strain them and spread them on a tea towel or baking sheet.
- Using a two inch dough scoop, fill the cooked shells with the meat and ricotta cheese filling. Arrange the stuffed shells in a greased 9X13 baking dish.
- Make the pumpkin marinara by adding the pumpkin puree, cream, water, sautéed onion, garlic and Italian seasoning to a blender. Pulse to desired consistency.
- Pour the pumpkin marinara over the stuffed shells. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese over the top.
- Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes. The pasta is done when the cheese is bubbly and browned.
More hearty recipes from Ninnescah Homestead
When the cold weather leaves you craving a hot meal, I've got you covered! Comfort foods are the best part of the chilly winter days. For a quick and easy recipe, check out my Comforting Rotini with Broccoli & Tuna. The recipe is reminiscent of a classic tuna helper, but with a sophisticated twist.
Another easy favorite of mine is Cast Iron Skillet Lasagna. This one utilizes the oven-ready lasagna noodles I mentioned earlier and is a really quick, no-mess family meal.
Finally, be sure to check out my Main Dish highlight. This is where I have stashed my classic dishes, like 30-Minute Chicken & Mushroom Skillet.