Butternut baby kale shells and cheese bake recipe

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Roasted and puréed butternut squash is fortified with sautéed baby kale and plenty of cheddar cheese in this grown up version of mac ’n’ cheese that will keep even the kids coming back for more.

  • Yield: 8 to 10 Servings


  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • Water
  • 3 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
  • ½ pound (3 cups / 230 g) medium pasta shells
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Pinch of kosher or sea salt and ground black pepper
  • 6 cups (95 g) coarsely chopped baby kale leaves or lacinato kale leaves
  • ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
How to Make It
  1. Preheat oven to 425° F (220° C). Cut squash in half, remove seeds, and place, cut side down, on a baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes, or until very soft. Remove from oven and set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 350° F (175° C).
  2. Shells
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil with the salt. Add shells and cook al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  4. Kale
  5. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic, and salt and pepper; cook until just softened, about 5 minutes. Add kale and stir to coat. Cook, stirring until completely wilted, about 5 minutes. Add vinegar and nutmeg, stir, and set aside.
  6. Bechamel and Finishing
  7. Melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat in a large pot. Whisk in flour and cook for 2 minutes. Whisk in half-and-half and stir at a low simmer for 3 minutes. Scoop the flesh away from the skin of the cooked squash and into the simmering béchamel. Whisk thoroughly to combine, or if necessary, blend until smooth with an immersion blender (Basic Mashing Tools). Whisk in the ricotta, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and 1 tablespoon of butter. Fold in the cooked shells.
  8. Butter a large shallow casserole dish with the remaining butter. Pour in the pasta mixture and spread evenly. Sprinkle the Parmesan evenly over the top. Bake until bubbling hot and lightly browned, 40 minutes. Serve hot. Leftovers will heat well in a 350° F (175° C) oven or in a microwave.

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