18-20 Lumaconi shells or giant orecchiette, large dried pasta shells
2 cups tomato passata
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 kilogram crown or butternut pumpkin
knob of butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme
3 tablespoons cream
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup crushed amaretti biscuits
1 egg, lightly beaten
60 grams butter
1/3 cup plain flour
2½ cups milk
¼ teaspoon ground mace or freshly grated nutmeg
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
6 x 10 cm ramekins or baking dishes
Preheat the oven to 200˚C.
Filling: Peel and dice the pumpkin. Toss with a little olive oil, season, place on a lined baking tray and roast until tender. Tip into a bowl and mash roughly with a fork. Cool.
Put the butter, onion, garlic and thyme in a saucepan with a pinch of salt. Cover and cook until very soft. Add the cream and cook until reduced and thick. Cool.
Combine the pumpkin, onions, Parmesan, amaretti biscuits and the egg in a bowl. Season generously and set aside.
Béchamel: Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour to make a smooth paste. Cook over a low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Gradually whisk in the milk, add the mace or nutmeg and season generously. Bring to the boil, whisking constantly until thickened. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. A simmer mat is ideal for this.
To assemble: Spread a spoonful of passata over the base of each dish. Using a teaspoon, fill the shells and place half stuffing side down and half facing up. Drizzle the remaining passata over the shells then spoon over the béchamel sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan and bake for 30 minutes until golden and the sauce is bubbling.
The recipe can be fully assembled several hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook. Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before baking.
Tomato passata (passata di pomodoro) is simply tomatoes that have been puréed and sieved to remove the seeds. It is imported from Italy and can be easily found in some supermarkets and most specialty stores.