Creamy Butternut Squash Stuffed Pasta Shells with Sausage, Spinach, and Tomatoes are the ultimate Autumn/Winter comfort food. This Italian-inspired pasta dish will bring colors, vibrancy, veggies, and Fall flavors to your dinner table! It's packed with protein, veggies, and fiber. Simple enough to make on a busy weeknight - fancy enough to entertain guests!
Autumn comfort food
Butternut squash stuffed shells have quickly become my family's favorite Fall dinner this year. And that's not surprising at all! It's a perfect pasta dish to make when the nights are cold and you crave creamy comfort food and healthy ingredients all in one dish! This pasta is surely cozy and comforting yet it's packed with fiber and nutrients that you get from squash, spinach, and tomatoes. A perfect family weeknight dinner! For more winter squash dinner inspiration during colder months, don't miss this creamy butternut squash pasta with sausage and spinach or these delicious butternut squash gnocchi.
What makes this recipe work
- A complete meal. My friends and family were raving about this dinner because it is a well-balanced meal that has everything to keep you satisfied: protein (sausage), veggies (butternut squash, spinach, and tomatoes), carbs (pasta shells), and comfort food factor (creamy sauce and cheese).
- Perfect for meal prep. This recipe can be made in advance, refrigerated, and then reheated for when you need it (within 3 days). See more details on that below.
- Spectacular presentation. While butternut squash stuffed pasta shells are easy enough to make on a busy weeknight, this meal makes such a stunning presentation that you can meal prep it up to 3 days in advance and serve it when entertaining guests. This way, you don't have to cook while you have company over and you can just enjoy friends and family by meal prepping this a couple of days in advance.
- Butternut squash is an excellent source of vitamins A, B6, C, and E, as well as several minerals, including magnesium, manganese, and potassium. Butternut squash is also rich in dietary fiber. This wonderful vegetable is known for its subtly sweet and nutty flavor. Butternut squash puree is used in this recipe.
- Spinach is packed with nutrients and antioxidants. It’s high in fiber and a good source of many vitamins and minerals. Spinach is a great source of vitamins A and C, as well as folic acid, iron, and calcium.
- Sausage. Spicy sausage blends exceptionally well with sweet and nutty butternut squash and creamy pasta sauce. Use crumbled sausage without casings. Any type of pork sausage, spicy sausage, Italian sausage, or chicken sausage will work! You can also use a plant-based Beyond sausage.
- Fresh tomatoes add texture and more flavor.
- Pasta. You'll need jumbo shells for this recipe, about 10 or 12 oz.
How to make butternut squash stuffed pasta shells - recipe overview
Here is the recipe in a nutshell to give you an idea of just how simple and easy it is:
- First, cook the pasta shells, and while the pasta cooks, make the filling by cooking the sausage, spinach, and tomatoes.
- Then, make the creamy sauce by combing butternut squash puree with heavy cream.
- Next, you will stuff the large cooked pasta shells with cooked sausage, cooked spinach, and tomatoes.
- After that, you will layer the stuffed pasta shells on top of the creamy butternut squash sauce in a large oven-proof, high-sided skillet.
- Sprinkle shredded pepper jack cheese on top and bake in the oven until the cheese melted. That's it! Super easy and so tasty.
- Cooking tip: Make this recipe even quicker by making butternut squash puree a day or 2 in advance or use store-bought canned pumpkin puree instead.
Substitutions and variations
- Butternut squash puree can be replaced with pumpkin puree. In fact, that could be a time-saving option if you don't have time to roast the squash. Simply buy canned pumpkin puree and use it instead of butternut squash.
- Greens. This is a great recipe to experiment with and use different kinds of greens. Spinach, arugula, and kale are all great options.
- Sausage. I used crumbled spicy Italian sausage. You can also use mild or sweet varieties. You can use sausage in links, by removing casings first and then cooking it. Chicken sausage would work great.
- Cheese. Pepper jack cheese adds some heat and great flavor to the butternut squash stuffed shells. Other flavorful cheeses I recommend are Asiago, Parmesan, or Gruyere.
- Pasta. While this is obviously a recipe for butternut squash stuffed pasta shells, you can use regular short-shaped pasta in this recipe. Good choices are farfalle (bow-tie pasta), penne, rigatoni, fusilli, or orecchiette. Make it an "unstuffed" pasta.
- Make it meatless by using plant-based sausage, such as the Beyond sausage brand.
- Make it dairy free by using unsweetened coconut milk instead of heavy cream and using vegan cheese instead of pepper jack cheese.
- Tomatoes. I used sliced cherry tomatoes, you can also use regular tomatoes.
- Garnish. Garnish the pasta shells with fresh herbs (such as oregano or thyme), red pepper flakes, and freshly grated cheese.
- Use an oven-safe, large, high-sided, heavy-bottomed skillet, such as a 12-inch cast-iron or 12-inch stainless steel pan.
- Prepare the butternut squash puree up to 4 days in advance. This will save you a lot of time when actually making this recipe. Or, use store-bought, canned pumpkin puree instead.
- Cook pasta shells al dente. That's when the pasta texture is at its best. It's especially important if you want to make this ahead.
Storage and reheating tips
- Refrigerate. Store leftover butternut squash stuffed shells in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- Freeze. You can freeze this dish in an airtight container for up to 2 months.
- Reheat. Reheat the pasta gently on the stovetop in a large, high-sided skillet over medium heat, stirring halfway through. Add extra milk or heavy cream to thin out the sauce.
- Things to consider. Keep in mind that the cream sauce when refrigerated loses its texture and becomes thick. To reheat it the next day, reheat over medium heat and add extra milk or heavy cream when reheating to thin out the sauce.
Can you make it ahead?
Yes, you can! This is one of the perfect recipes for meal prep. Below are some tips:
- You can assemble the whole dish (including the cheese on top) in an oven-safe large skillet, cover it with the lid, refrigerate it, and bake it within 3 days. Because all the ingredients are already cooked, this dish is perfect for meal prep!
- Another option is to make the butternut squash puree up to 3 days in advance and then proceed with the rest of the recipe when you're ready.
- Pro-tip. Cook pasta shells al dente if you plan to make this ahead so that it holds up better when refrigerated.
What to serve with it
Because of the richness of this dish, I recommend serving butternut squash stuffed shells with a slice of warm olive bread or Italian bread to dip into the luscious creamy sauce. Also, serve a fresh salad - it always goes well with creamy pasta dishes. Here are my favorites:
- Arugula Salad with Apples, Cranberries, Pecans, and Balsamic Dressing
- Cranberry Spinach Salad with Cashews and Goat Cheese and Lemon-Honey Poppy Seed Dressing
- Autumn Salad with Arugula, roasted Butternut Squash, dried Figs, toasted sliced Almonds, and Pomegranate Seeds.
- Simple Spinach Salad with Pine Nuts, Parmesan Cheese
- Arugula Salad with Pears, Apples, and Cashews
Other butternut squash pasta recipes
- Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta with Sausage and Spinach
- Creamy Butternut Squash and Sausage Gnocchi
- Autumn Chicken Dinner with Tortellini and Roasted Vegetables (Butternut Squash and Brussels Sprouts)
- Butternut Squash Ravioli with Brown Butter Sauce and Pecans
- Creamy Butternut Squash Orzo with Sausage
Creamy Butternut Squash Stuffed Pasta Shells with Sausage
- 10 oz jumbo pasta shells
- 15 oz spicy Italian sausage crumbled
- ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 5 oz fresh spinach
- 8 oz cherry tomatoes sliced in half
- 1.5 cups butternut squash puree or use pumpkin puree
- 1 cup heavy cream
- fresh thyme
- ⅓ cup pepper jack cheese shredded
Butternut squash puree
- Note: This recipe assumes that you have already premade butternut squash puree in advance. If you didn't, here are the step-by-step recipe and photos for making butternut squash puree from scratch. Or, if you are in a time crunch, just use store-bought canned pumpkin puree instead - it would work great here!
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta shells and cook according to package instructions (usually 10 or 15 minutes). Drain. In the meantime, proceed with the recipe below.
Make sausage filling
- Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat in a large oven-safe, heavy-bottomed, high-sided skillet. Add crumbled sausage and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the sausage is cooked. Drain excess fat.
- To the same skillet with cooked sausage, add Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, fresh spinach, and chopped fresh tomatoes (reserve some tomatoes for later use). Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, for 4 or 5 minutes until the spinach wilts to your liking.
- Remove the sausage and veggie mixture to a large bowl.
Make creamy butternut squash sauce
- To the same, now empty, skillet, add 1.5 cups of butternut squash puree, 1 cup of heavy cream, and a small amount of fresh thyme over medium heat and stir to combine until the sauce reaches an even consistency. Remove from heat.
Stuff pasta shells and assembly
- Preheat oven to 400 F.
- After the pasta shells are cooked and drained, start stuffing each shell with a spoonful of sausage, spinach, and tomato mixture.
- If you have remaining stuffing - mix it with the creamy butternut squash sauce in the skillet.
- Place each stuffed shell in a circular pattern on top of the creamy butternut squash sauce in a skillet.
- Top the shells with shredded Pepper Jack cheese and the remaining chopped cherry tomatoes.
- Place the skillet in the oven, uncovered, and bake in the preheated oven at 400 F for about 10 or 15 minutes to warm up the stuffed shells and melt the cheese.
- The total cooking time does not include the time required for roasting the butternut squash and making the butternut squash puree. I recommend that you do that in advance.
- Because you will be roasting whole butternut squash, you will have more than you need (1 cup) for this recipe. Refrigerate or freeze the leftover butternut squash puree in an airtight container.
- If using dried thyme instead of fresh thyme, use ½ teaspoon of dried thyme (not powdered) or ¼ teaspoon of powdered dried thyme.
The nutritional information on this website is only an estimate and is provided for convenience and as a courtesy only. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed. It should not be used as a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
can you make the in a 9x13 pan for larger group. love this dish
Margy, yes, you can! This would actually be a great dish to serve to a larger group. As long as the 9x13 dish is high-sided - use it and just double or triple the recipe for a larger dish.
Hi, I appreciate that the nutrition info is a courtesy… but how many shells are
considered a portion/serving in relation to the nutrition info- as given. Thanks!
I liked the butternut sauce, and I liked the stuffed shells, but I felt like the Italian sausage overpowered the sauce somewhat. I think I'd like to try this with chicken instead.
Kerri, this would be delish with chicken, too!
This sounds amazing! But I'd rather not use heavy cream. Any suggestions for a substitute? Almond milk?
Sherri, you can use any kind of milk you like: almond milk, cashew milk, oat milk, etc. Because this recipe uses butternut squash puree, the sauce will be thick regardless (and you can always adjust the thickness of the sauce by adding more butternut squash puree or less milk).
Absolutely delicious!!!! It seems to be a very "forgiving" recipe as well... I doubled the recipe but didn't have enough spinach and accidentally used too much sausage and it's still so good. I added a dash of nutmeg to sauce. Lots and lots of compliments from guests!!! Thank you for sharing this recipe!
Caroline, your comment really made my day! 🙂 So glad this recipe was a success and that everyone enjoyed it! 🙂 I really appreciate you taking the time to share such a positive comment and 5-star review! 🙂
We added a good dose of fresh garlic to the sausage mixture, and a couple dashes of cayenne to the sauce. We checked five stores for the jumbo shells and ended up using manicotti as a substitute. I think I would make a little extra sauce next time - it was delicious. We also used a dry Romano to keep with the Italian theme. Great recipe to add to our list.
Deb, I love the addition of garlic and cayenne to the sausage! So very resourceful to use manicotti instead of jumbo shells. So glad you were able to use this recipe even without the pasta shells.
Here is one option for getting jumbo pasta shells:
Also added garlic, and also had a very difficult time finding shells!
Garlic makes everything better in my book. 🙂
Jumbo pasta shells are hard to find. Here are some places where you can buy them:
This dish was a hit with my friends. It is a feast for your eyes and tastes delicious,
I am going to make it for Christmas. Sure to impress everyone!
The only thing I changed is I used Beyond Spicy Italian sausage because I don't eat meat. My guests couldn't tell.....
Terry, your comment REALLY made my day! 🙂 Thank you for taking the time to share this wonderful feedback. And thank you for sharing the plant-based sausage worked really well! Happy Holidays! 🙂
Tried this with vegetarian Italian sausage and it was so delicious!!! Never thought something so healthy could taste so good. (Healthy for me at least haha).
Why do you think it is healthy?
Gabriella, I am so glad you loved this recipe! And good to know it worked well with vegetarian Italian sausage!
This was amazing! I made the puree the day before so that made it a bit less time consuming. Beautiful presentation & everyone loved it! Thank you for sharing!!!
Carol, you are so welcome! 🙂 I am glad you gave this recipe a try and loved it! Happy Holidays!! 🙂 🙂