Filled with flavors of sage, cinnamon and nutmeg, these pumpkin stuffed shells are fall comfort food at its best. You can’t go wrong with the cozy combination of an Italian-inspired home cooked meal with a seasonal twist.
Growing up in an Italian-American household, you’d think stuffed shells would’ve been something I ate all the time but you’d be wrong. Things like lasagna or stuffed shells were reserved solely for a special holiday meal, oftentimes we’d only enjoy such a meal once a year.
When it comes to lasagna, or lasagna rollups, I get it. I recently made a tray for a sick neighbor and was quickly reminded how laborious that meal is. Stuffed shells, however, are like the cheaters version of lasagna. You get all the flavor and comfort with a fraction of the time and effort.
These creamy pumpkin ricotta stuffed shells reminded me of that and I swore to make them more often after one bite of their savory indulgent deliciousness. They’re kind of a mashup between this butternut sage white bean gnocchi and this creamy pumpkin pasta recipe — both creamy, luscious fall delights.
Pumpkin shells are the perfect Sunday meal. The kind where you pour yourself a glass of wine, enjoy the cooking process and sit down to a comforting and decadent dinner after a long week.
You’ll be pleasantly surprised how easy this recipe is to throw together and even more so when you take the first bite and the complexity of flavors hits your mouth.
Ingredients to make pumpkin stuffed shells
- Jumbo pasta shells — most boxes of this pasta come in 12 ounces. The recipe only calls for 8 ounces but make the whole box in case some break in the cooking process. Any leftovers can always be tossed with marinara for a simple meal or picky kids.
- Ricotta cheese — full fat is best for stuffed shells, it’s just so much more creamy than reduced fat.
- Pumpkin — this recipe is perfect for using up open cans of pumpkin.
- Parmesan — the sharpness of parmesan cheese or pecorino romano is a nice balance to the creamy ricotta.
- Sage — a quintessential fall herb but feel free to swap it out with rosemary if preferred. Fresh sage is best here versus dried for maximum flavor. Basil is also a nice complement to pumpkin if you’re not into fall herbs.
- Marinara sauce — go easy on yourself and use your favorite jarred sauce, there’s no need to make this from scratch. Trader Joe’s makes an autumn harvest sauce that’s perfect for this recipe.
- Seasonings — minced garlic, salt, pepper and a pinch of both cinnamon and nutmeg add the perfect balance of flavor to the creamy ricotta.
*Pro tip — Many times, stuffed shell fillings call for an egg, similar to lasagna filling. I do not find this necessary for making this recipe. Unlike lasagna, the filling doesn’t need to set the same way.
How to make pumpkin ricotta stuffed shells
Start by preheating the oven to 375°F and getting out a large baking dish.
Cook the shells
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add the shells and cook until quite al dente. You want to undercook the shells by 2-3 minutes from what the package directions say so they don’t turn to mush in the oven. Drain them once cooked then set aside.
*Pro tip — Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on top of the cooked shells and toss gently so they don’t stick together before stuffing.
Make the filling
While the shells cook, make the filling by adding the ricotta, pumpkin, parmesan or pecorino cheese, garlic, sage, salt, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg to a large bowl. Stir until well combined.
Stuff the shells
Spread three cups of the marinara sauce on the bottom of a large baking dish. Spoon the ricotta filling into each shell and arrange them in a single layer on top of the sauce in the baking dish. Repeat the stuffing process until all the ricotta pumpkin mixture is used up.
Spoon the remaining cup of sauce on top of the shells and top with additional parmesan cheese if desired.
Bake the stuffed shells
Loosely cover the dish with foil and bake the stuffed shells for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and finish baking for another 10 minutes.
Serve warm with freshly chopped sage and more cheese.
Creamy dreamy cheesy pumpkin filling
The star of the show with this pumpkin shells recipe is really the filling. It’s lusciously creamy but incredibly flavorful and fragrant at the same time.
If you don’t want to go through the process of making stuffed shells you could actually use the same exact filling as a creamy pasta sauce. Toss it with your favorite pasta shape and enjoy all the same fall vibes in an easier and quicker application.
Feeling up to making lasagna? Use this filling for a delicious pumpkin lasagna recipe!
What to serve stuffed shells with
This kind of indulgent meal is really best paired with a nice salad. Something like this fennel citrus salad has a great fall vibe to it as well as this shaved Brussels sprouts salad with apples, pears and cranberries.
You can also choose to serve the shells as a side dish rather than the main course. Some fall meals they’d pair well with include an apple butter roasted chicken, pumpkin glazed pork chops and turkey sage stuffed apples
The best tips for making these stuffed shells
- Do not overcook the shells — it’s really important to undercook them so they don’t end up mushy and can stand up to being filled and baked.
- Make sure to place the shells filling side up in the baking dish so the pumpkin ricotta mixture doesn’t leak out while in the oven.
- Finish the stuffed shells under the broiler. This will result in a few golden brown crispy edges on the shells which is a nice textural contrast to the creamy centers.
- If spooning the filling in is too messy for you, use a pastry bag with a tip for less mess.
- If you’re making this recipe for a crowd, it doubles or triples very easily.
Making ahead and leftovers
The pumpkin shells can be prepped ahead of time by making the filling and stuffing the shells the day before. Do not place the prepped shells on top of the marinara sauce as that will make them soggy. Instead, spoon the marinara on top and around them before baking.
Store the prepped shells in the refrigerator until ready to bake off. If baking straight from the refrigerator, add a few minutes of baking time to account for the colder starting temperature.
Store any leftovers in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for up to 5 days. You may want to add more sauce when reheating the shells to keep them from drying out.
More fall dishes you’ll love
If you make and love this recipe, please leave a ★★★★★ review below! I’d love to know how it goes. Leave a comment below if you have any questions. Tag @runningtothekitchen on Instagram & Facebook.
Pumpkin Stuffed Shells
- 8 ounces jumbo pasta shells
- 15 ounces whole milk ricotta
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon minced sage
- salt & pepper to taste
- pinch cinnamon
- pinch nutmeg
- 4 cups marinara sauce divided
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta shells until very al dente, about 2-3 minutes under the stated cooking time on the package.
- While pasta cooks, add the ricotta, pumpkin, parmesan, garlic, sage, salt, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. Mix until well combined.
- Spread 3 cups of the marinara sauce on the bottom of a large (9×13 or bigger) baking dish.
- Once the pasta is cooled enough to handle, stuff each shell with the pumpkin ricotta mixture and lay on top of the sauce in the baking dish. Repeat with remaining shells.
- Spoon the remaining cup of sauce on top of the shells and sprinkle with additional parmesan if desired.
- Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes. Enjoy warm from the oven.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition information can vary for a variety of reasons. For the most precise nutritional data use your preferred nutrition calculator based on the actual ingredients you used in the recipe.
Gina Matsoukas is the writer, founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients as much as possible. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.