A Bit of Winter Garden Magic plus Butternut Squash and Feta Stuffed Pasta Shells with “Under the Leaves” Herbs

With mud in view the garden called out to me like a siren this gray February day, snow clouds descending and Mount Lamborn no longer in view. Everything has been covered in white here for weeks, and coming home from a five day trip I smiled, seeing brown leaves and black earth, re-emerging through the melting snow. Once out back in the garden – I found many little treasures.

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As I write this, snow is falling heavily, we are in for another big storm. When I found all the lovely, fresh herbs under the leaves I’d heaped over the herb corner of the garden last November, inspiration hit. With the very last – sigh – butternut squash from 2012’s garden gleaming in the bowl, some wonderful goat feta in the fridge and a box of GF giant pasta shells in the pantry, plus the sweet score of fresh herbs, I turned the oven on and spent some very happy time in the kitchen.

Butternut Squash and Feta Stuffed Pasta Shells with “Under the Leaves” Herbs

It’s an easy recipe, and has all the perfect components: herby, peppery, mellow, rich, tangy, savory. I happened to have a jar of Lemon Boy canned tomatoes put up last fall, and used that for a base to bake the shells in, then finished the dish with ribbons of shaved parmesan cheese after it came out of the oven…

the herby, peppery, mellow squash stuffed shells with flecks of tangy goat feta and tomato sauce

the herby, peppery, mellow squash stuffed shells with flecks of tangy goat feta and yellow tomato sauce

It gave me such joy discovering these herbs under old leaves on this February day, with my boots squishing mud in the garden. The garden!!

sweet find under the leaves: oregano, thyme, sage and burnet

sweet find under the leaves: oregano, thyme, sage and burnet

Have you ever smelled a freshly sliced open butternut squash?? They are so fresh, so fragrant! See the little beads of butternut juice?

beautiful butternut squash

beautiful butternut squash

I dropped in an extra dollop of butter into the cast iron pan to fry the shallots and garlic – all to be added into the mashed squash for the pasta filling.

shallots and garlic sauteed in butter

shallots and garlic sauteed in butter

Roasted butternut squash – I even remember WHICH squash this was in the garden. It had a sweet, kind of – squashed – shape on the stem end, and had popped up unexpectedly late in the season underneath my garden chair. Want to see it on the vine? 

roasted in a hot oven

roasted in a hot oven

I decided to season with my sparingly-used-and-often-forgotten Ecuador salt for this recipe. I’d bought a big bag of it at the market in Salcedo when I was in the Andean Highlands for an unforgettable trip immersed in healing practices, sacred places and culture there, back in 2000. For an authentic and delicioso recipe I learned on that trip link here: potatoes (papas) in cream sauce with ginger tomato salsa….

another treasure - my Ecuadorian sea salt from a 2000 trip to the Andean Highlands and the market in Salcedo

another treasure – my Ecuadorian sea salt from a 2000 trip to the Andean Highlands and the market in Salcedo

Flecks of everything good in the filling, ready to be stirred together and stuffed into the pasta shells.

the butternut squash filling

the butternut squash filling

Betcha can’t eat just one….

betcha can't eat just one

betcha can’t eat just one

And the recipe – for 14 giant pasta shells. Gluten free aficionados, Tinkyada Pasta Joy brand has giant shells that boil up just wonderfully. Of course use wheat shells if you like for the recipe. You’ll need a 9 or 10 inch flat baking dish, such as a pie plate or ovenware casserole.

  • 14 giant pasta shells
  • 2 1/2 c. roasted, mashed butternut squash
  • 2 shallots, sliced into rings
  • 4 – 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 tbsp. butter or olive oil
  • 1/3 heaping c. minced fresh herbs such as oregano, thyme, sage, burnet – or your favorites (for lots of sparkly green flavors)
  • 1/2 tbsp. or to taste cracked peppercorns (you can use ground pepper too, but it’s great to bite down on a spicy little chunk of pepper)
  • 1 – 2 tsp. or to taste of a nice sea salt, if you have it (or your regular use salt – use less for fine grained salt)
  • 2/3 – 3/4 c. crumbled goat feta (or feta of choice)
  • 3 or so c. tomato sauce (some markets bring in yellow – or golden – tomatoes. You could roast them and make your own sauce… mmmm
  • 1/3 c. or so of parmesan ribbons (use a chunk of cheese and a vegetable peeler)

Pre-heat oven to 375. (If you are roasting the squash just for this recipe, heat the oven to 400, slice, seed and roast the squash cut side down in a dry or lightly oiled pan for 45 minutes or until tender. Scoop squash and place in bowl. Then turn heat down to 375.)

Saute shallots and garlic in butter or olive oil until translucent and beginning to brown around the edges. Mash squash in a medium bowl with the shallot, garlic and butter mixture, add herbs, salt and pepper. Meanwhile: bring a large saucepan of water to boil, then drop the pasta shells in, and boil until al dente (just tender.) The timing varies with your pasta variety. Drain into a colander and cool slightly with cold running water.

Pour tomato sauce into baking dish, ideally about 1 1/2 inches high in the pan, so the sauce flavors will permeate the stuffed shells. Fill the shells, with a spoon or your fingers, (I like using my fingers!) and arrange in the dish. Scatter feta over the top, and bake, covered, for about a half hour. Check to see if the sauce is bubbly and feta wilting into it all. Pull from the oven and serve with the parmesan ribbons tossed gently over the top.

Butternut Squash and Feta Stuffed Pasta Shells with "Under the Leaves" Herbs

Butternut Squash and Feta Stuffed Pasta Shells with “Under the Leaves” Herbs

With blessings and gratitude to Pachamama…

2 thoughts on “A Bit of Winter Garden Magic plus Butternut Squash and Feta Stuffed Pasta Shells with “Under the Leaves” Herbs

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