Monday, November 05, 2007

Butternut Squash Stuffed Shells with Low-Fat Bechemel Sauce

My inspiration for this dish was a recent episode of Everyday Italian. Giada was making Butternut Squash Torellini and it looked fantastic. I didn't feel like running out and getting wonton wrappers, however, so I decided to create my own idea with some of her ingredients and flavors.

Another unusual ingredient in her recipe was the addition of amaretti cookies to the butternut squash filling. I love Amaretto so this was a flavor I decided not to leave out. Although I didn't have amaretti cookies on hand either, so I decided to some up with a substitute for it. I added Amaretto liqour to toasted fresh bread crumbs, yum!

She used a brown butter sauce on her tortellini, which looked absolutely delicious, but this would not work with baked shells. I decided to use a bechemel sauce and kept it on the light side by using fat-free half and half. I admit, it wasn't the best bechemel sauce I have ever made but it wasn't "half" bad either. The only thing is that it sort of drys up and forms a skin if you don't use it immediately. If I made it again, I think I would use less flour and possibly try low-fat milk instead.

Speaking of "low-fat", I tried something totally non traditional in the filling. Instead of the usual ricotta filling, I used low-fat "whipped" cottage cheese. Don't cringe. I know it sounds weird but believe me you could not tell the difference here. I promise. The part-skim ricotta, which is what I normally use, had 4 grams of saturated fat per serving. The low-fat cottage cheese had 1.5 grams of saturated fat per serving. I think that is worth looking at, don't you?

Butternut Squash Stuffed Shells with Low-Fat Bechemel Sauce

1 (12-ounce) package jumbo shells pasta
1 butternut squash, approx. 2 pounds, cubed (about 3 cups)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
1 1/2 teaspoons herbs de Provence
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 bunch scallions, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup low-fat whipped cottage cheese
1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons Amareto liquor
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Low-Fat Bechemel Sauce

1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1/2 tablespoon smart balance spread
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups fat-free half and half (warm)
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

On a foil-lined baking sheet toss together the butternut squash, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, herbs de Provence, salt and pepper. Bake in the oven until soft and golden, about 35 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small saute pan over medium heat. Cook the scallions and garlic until lightly golden, about 3 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta and set on a oiled baking sheet to cool.

In a small saute pan over low heat, toast the fresh bread crumbs until dry and light brown. Add the Amaretto and stir to coat. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an immersion blender, combine the butternut squash mixture, the scallion mixture, and the cottage cheese and pulse a few times to blend. Add the bread crumb mixture, nutmeg, and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pulse until smooth. The filling can be made one day ahead.

Stuff the shells with about 2 tablespoons of the butternut squash mixture each and place the stuffed shells in a large, baking dish coated with cooking spray or buttered.

Make bechamel sauce:

In a medium pot, melt the butter and spread over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to prevent any lumps from forming. Continue to simmer and whisk over medium heat until the sauce is thick, smooth and creamy, about 10 minutes. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of wooden spoon. Remove from heat and add the nutmeg and cayenne pepper. Stir until well combined and check for seasoning. Add salt and pepper. Set aside.

Pour the sauce over the shells. Bake until golden on top, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.


Brilynn said...

That sounds fabulous, shells are my favourite pasta shape!

Susan G said...

Very smart alternative to filled pasta! I would try unsweetened soy milk for the cream -- it's low fat and has nice body without any junk added.

Emily said...

Amaretto? Bechemel? Herbs de Provence? You are such a foodie! This sounds so good, and very gourmet. I love butternut squash.

Anonymous said...

butternut squash is something new to my menu,but believe me inside the shells was great.Great flavor too.Thank you Annie,bambola

angiecita said...

wow, i was thinking of making butternut squash stuffed shells with a bechamel sauce! It's like you live in my head! thanks