The folks on my father’s side of the family are Sicilian. I haven’t visited Sicily yet, but I’ve always loved Sicilian ingredients, and I was certainly drawn to this cookbook, by Ben Tish, published in 2021.
From the author: “As with many Sicilian recipes these stuffed pasta shells are born from need and ingenuity, making the best use of leftovers – pasta in this case. The resulting dish has become something much more than the sum of its parts and is a real showstopper. Conchiglioni is the most popular stuffing pasta in Sicily…”
As a lover of baked pasta dishes, Baked Conchiglioni with Pumpkin and Rosemary popped out at me.
From Chef Tish: “Although there are several elements to this recipe it’s easy to prepare. I’ve taken it up a notch with the addition of marscarpone in the sauce and an indulgent rosemary and lemon spiked brown butter to finish.”
I had never before experienced the pasta called conchiglioni. Fabulously large pasta, meant for filling.
Baked Conchiglioni with Pumpkin and Rosemary
About 1 kg dense-fleshed pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into 2cm dice
A handful of baby spinach, chopped
400g dried large conchiglioni
700ml full-fat milk
80g fontina cheese, finely grated
4 sprigs of rosemary, leaves picked
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Spread the pumpkin dice on a roasting tray, season well, and drizzle with oil. Roast for 25-30 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender and has started to brown.
Remove from the oven and crush with the back of a wooden spoon or a fork, then stir in the chopped baby spinach to wilt in the residual heat. Reserve. Leave oven on.
While the pumpkin is cooking, partly cook the pasta in boiled salted water for 5 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold running water to stop any further cooking. Drain again.
Make the bechamel by melting 125g of butter in a saucepan and stirring in the flour. Turn up the heat and cook until this roux bubbles and turns a sandy color. Now gradually whisk in the milk, still on the heat, and continue to whisk until the milk is fully incorporated and the sauce is smooth and thick but pourable.
Stir in the mascarpone and half the fontina and season to taste. Spoon the bechamel into a large baking dish and drizzle with olive oil.
Divide the pumpkin mix among the pasta shells and push it in – it’s easiest to use your finger. You should over-stuff them so you can see plenty of filling.
Press the pasta shells into the bechamel in rows. Drizzle with more oil, then bake for 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the remaining fontina. Place back in the oven and bake until the shells are fully coked and the top is golden brown.
While the pasta is baking, heat the remaining butter in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until it turns a nut brown or “noisette.” Add the rosemary leaves, lemon juice and seasoning.
Remove the pasta bake from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before the drizzling on the brown rosemary butter.
It’s fabulous with a green salad, or just about any green vegetable.
I served the baked pasta as is. It’s so decadent I just wanted it by itself. Delicious.
And the rosemary butter was fantastic! I can’t say the same for the lemon element. It was just weird, and almost ruined this luscious baked pasta. However, I’m not sold on lemon/citrus as much as many people.