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Pumpkin Patch Stuffed Shells

Serves 5

Young chefs will have fun stuffing these shells, while their grown-up helpers will love the nutritious pumpkin and spinach inside!


  • Salt and pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 20 jumbo pasta shells
  • 1 pound baby spinach
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 pound extra-lean ground beef
  • 1 1/3 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree (unsweetened)
  • Parsley leaves


  1. Add 2 teaspoons salt, a splash of EVOO and 20 jumbo pasta shells to a large pot of boiling water. Cook according to the package directions. Drain and rinse until cool. Cover with damp paper towels.
  2. Bring 1 inch water to a boil in the same pot. Add half of the baby spinach. Let wilt before adding the rest; stir to wilt. Rinse with cold water; squeeze to get the spinach as dry as possible.
  3. Place the spinach on a cutting board and chop with a bench scrape. (Or, if you don’t have a bench scraper let a grown-up helper chop with a chef’s knife.)
  4. Pre-heat the oven to 400°F.
  5. In a skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add the onion, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook over medium-high heat until tender, 6-7 minutes.
  6. Add the ground beef; cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 3 minutes.
  7. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the chopped spinach until well mixed. Stir in 1/3 cup shredded cheddar. Let cool.
  8. Heat 2 cups milk in the microwave. In a medium size saucepan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Whisk in 1/4 cup flour; cook 1 minute. Whisk in 1/2 cup hot milk, then the rest. When it boils, whisk for 1 minute.
  9. Remove from the heat; season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Whisk in 3/4 cup pure pumpkin puree. Stir in the remaining 1 cup shredded cheddar. Cover to prevent a skin from forming.
  10. Hold a pasta shell in one hand and stuff with a large spoonful of the beef-spinach mixture (about a 1-inch ball). Cover the stuffed shells with a damp towel as you work.
  11. Grease a 9-inch x 13-inch baking dish. Smear the bottom with 1/2 cup of the pumpkin sauce. Arrange the stuffed shells in the prepared pan with the openings face-down.
  12. Spoon more sauce on top. Cover the dish with foil and bake until the sauce is bubbling hot, about 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before decorating with parsley leaves.

Recipe by Tracey Seaman, Test Kitchen Director, Every Day with Rachael Ray. Reprinted with permission from Every Day with Rachael Ray.