Sausage and Spinach Stuffed Shells with Pumpkin Cream Sauce

Here's what you need

1 pound large shell pasta

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 shallot, diced

1 pound ground pork sausage
1 clove garlic, minced

2 packed cups chopped baby spinach

2 tablespoons chopped sage, divided

1 pint ricotta cheese

1 cup plus 3 heaping tablespoons canned pumpkin

1 cup parmesan cheese, divided

pinch of red pepper flakes

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons all purpose flour

2 cups milk

2 cups shredded fontina cheese

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste 

Here's what you do

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the shells and cook for 7 to 8 minutes until very al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water then strain the shells and rinse with cold water and set aside. 

Heat a heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat and swirl in the olive oil. Add the shallot and sausage, cooking until browned and crumbled. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic, spinach and one tablespoon of sage, stirring until the spinach has wilted. Transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool slightly. Mix in the ricotta, 3 heaping tablespoons pumpkin puree, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray. Stuff each shell with a couple of heaping tablespoons of the sausage and ricotta mixture and arrange in the baking dish. 

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk until a paste forms. Cook for about 1 minute to get rid of the raw flour flavor. Slowly whisk in the milk then increase heat slightly. When the milk is steaming and just starting to bubble along the edges, whisk in the remaining pumpkin puree, parmesan cheese, and sage, as well as 1 1/2 cups fontina cheese, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cook until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. If the sauce becomes too thick, splash in a bit of the reserved pasta water until desired consistency is reached.

Pour the sauce all over the stuffed shells and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of fontina. Cover the baking sheet with tin foil and bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for 10 minutes more until the cheese is starting to brown and the sauce is bubbly. Allow to cool for a few minutes then serve with extra grated parmesan and cracked black pepper to taste.