Butternut-Walnut Stuffed Shells

Lists of marriage advice just don’t go out of style, as this from Toure last month (I love that Toure is giving marriage advice!) proves.

I’m not going to jump into the marriage advice fray, but I’ll just recount two gems:

After getting married, Ankur’s father told me, “Never cook too little food.”  This was both advice and, I guess, a little of a warning.  Not a mean warning, but a warning like, “Seriously, it’s just silly not to cook enough food.”  And, of course, that’s not only true, it’s also exactly how I had learned to cook. Double the recipe! Make some extra, and freeze it! A lot of stuff tastes better the next day anyway!

The importance, and perhaps the controversial nature, of this advice was obvious when Ankur’s mother told me she wanted to help me deal with my habits of “food wastage.” She showed me how to measure out one handful of dal, rice, or flour per person, per meal — a ratio which ensures you will have just enough for everyone, but not a single bit extra. She told me it’s better to cook everything fresh, and not to serve “old food.” (Well…..when you put it that way. . . . )  She showed me how to cook with the pressure cooker, using the least cooking gas required, for the least time.  “It saves you time; it saves energy. . . . And it’s better for the nation!”  (I don’t know how to argue with that win-win logic.)


In my experience cooking for two, then for four, I have not figured out how to resolve this tension. I love having abundant food to serve, having muffins or cookies to share with friends, snacks on hand for visitors, or enough food to accomodate unexpected dinner guests.* It’s generous and open, and something about having more-than-enough goes along with the kind of sharing household I want to have.

At the same time, there is something satisfying and neat about finishing a meal with no leftovers. No tiny pile of rice in a plastic box destined to harden and rot. No steamed broccoli which, let’s face it, is absolutely vile the next day. And dal?  Don’t get me started. Cold dal straight from the fridge is pure sadness.

These stuffed shells, which I prepared on Saturday, baked on Sunday, and finished with family the same day fall happily and satifyingly into the second group. No leftovers. No food wastage.  More important, everyone was happy.

Isn’t that the best marriage advice — “Try to keep everyone happy.”?**

*Like that ever happens.

**Don’t answer that.

Butternut-Walnut Shells

This was just the right amount for 2 adults and 2 children. Don’t you think this would also make a good lasagna?  I do!

  • 1/2 of a large butternut squash (when roasted and mashed, this was 1 cup of squash)
  • 1/4 of a block of extra firm tofu crumbled
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (or to taste)
  • 9 large pasta shells (about 1/3 of a package of dried shell pasta)
  • 1 cup tomato sauce (This simple sauce from 101 cookbooks is pretty much what I used.)
  • 3/4 cup mozzarella (I used Daiya mozzarella, to keep the dish vegan.)

Cut a butternut squash in half, pierce the skin with a knife a few times, and roast at 400 degrees until it’s completely soft and a little caramelized on the edges.  (This recipe is much easier to pull together if you do this step well ahead of time.)  When cooked and cooled, peel off the skin and mash the squash.

Boil the pasta shells according to the directions on the package. When they are cooked, place on a pan so they don’t stick together.

Roast the walnuts on a pan.  I just place them on a very hot cast-iron pan, then let them roast, moving them around so they don’t burn.

Crush the walnuts by hand or in a blender, then add to the squash and walnuts.  Stir in the nutmeg, and maybe a little brown sugar. (I didn’t feel sugar was needed, but I bet it would be good.) Taste the mixture, and make sure you like the flavor, becuase it’s not going to change much once you bake it.

Fill each shell with the squash mixture, and pack the shells into a baking dish. I find that it makes sense to pack them tightly, or else the pasta might dry out when you bake it.

Top with tomato sauce and cheese. (Does it seem weird to have tomato sauce with squash? I thought it might be weird, but it was really nice.  Try it!)

At this point, put the whole thing in the fridge, or bake right away.  Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes, depending on how cold the whole thing is when you put it in the oven.

  1. Heidi said:

    What would you recommend using in place of the walnuts? (I’m allergic to them…they make my tongue breakout)

    • Kiran said:

      You really could leave them out completely. I like the taste of walnuts with squash, and I like the extra protein, but they don’t serve any structural purpose in this recipe. You could try substituting another nut (if you can eat other nuts), or sunflower seeds. . . but I would probably just leave that part out completely. Hope that helps!

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