Want an awesome arm workout?

Easy Butternut Skillet Shells & Cheese I howsweeteats.com

Try cutting up one of those massive butternut squashes. Oh mylanta. Is this even serious? I bought a squash that was longer than hand-to-elbow and thicker than a wine bottle in girth. Yes, I just said girth. And I had no idea how I was even going to cut it when I snatched it up at my local farm, but it was still considerably smaller than all of my other options. Do you know how one cuts up a squash like that? And by “one,” I really mean a high-anxiety, mentally-unstable-from-a-recent-Girls-marathon, hungry female?

Patiently. And very carefully.

Easy Butternut Skillet Shells & Cheese I howsweeteats.com

I actually feared for my life while slicing said squash. I mean, you have the whole cutting and chopping and peeling and removing of the seeds thing going on. So many sharp edges. Too many for my liking. One slip of my eye or one too many loudly belted lyrics from my Miranda Lambert Pandora station and I was going to be fingerless. Or worse yet: armless. Can’t I get someone here to do this kind of stuff for me or something?

And no, please don’t suggest my husband. I would totally put all of my anxiety on him and be certain that he would also chop off his arm since he doesn’t do much knife work, so then I’d try to leave the room so I wouldn’t think about it but it would be ALL I’d think about and then since I left it would end up happening anyway.

I’m a really rational person. In case you were wondering.

Easy Butternut Skillet Shells & Cheese I howsweeteats.com

In other news, I might just go ahead and turn this into a brown butter blog. Since you know, it seems like I can’t even get through one freaking recipe without adding just the teensiest, tiniest bit. Ugh.

It’s just so good when it hits your lips.

Easy Butternut Skillet Shells & Cheese I howsweeteats.com

This wasn’t my first go-round at a butternut mac: last year I made some butternut baked penne which we seriously lovelovelove, and it has bacon and mascarpone and everything. This time however, I wanted to attempt to make the whole shebang in one skillet (except for the boiling of the pasta, of course), and maybe even lighten it up a bit so it could be a weekly staple. Or like an everyday staple. Every meal staple? Butternut shells for breakfast? We’re sort of freaks.

Easy Butternut Skillet Shells & Cheese I howsweeteats.com

So yep yep yep… with the exception of your shells you can make this all in one skillet. Cook your squash until it’s squishy, mash it up, mix it with cheese and other delish creamy things then toss in your pasta. Bake for a few minutes to bring it together and melt the cheese on top. Or if you’re ridiculously immature and STILL have not learned the virtue that is patience, you probably don’t even have to bake it. Just stir it all in and go. Then eat it. And burn every taste bud in your pretty little mouth.

I know nothing about that.

Easy Butternut Skillet Shells & Cheese I howsweeteats.com


Butternut Squash Shells and Cheese Skillet

Yield: serves 4-6

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 45-50 minutes


3 cups uncooked whole wheat pasta shells
4 cups 1/2-inch cubed uncooked butternut squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups skim milk (or unsweetened almond or coconut)
6 ounces freshly grated fontina cheese
2 ounces freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted brown butter
2 tablespoons fine breadcrumbs
fresh chopped herbs for garnish (sage, basil, cilantro, thyme)


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare water for pasta and once it comes to a boil, cook pasta according to directions, then drain.

While water is boiling, heat a large cast-iron (or oven-safe) skillet over medium-low heat. Add olive oil, then toss in squash with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add stock and cover skillet, cooking for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until squash is soft and can easily be mashed. Remove cover and reduce heat to low. Mash squash with a potato masher or forks, smoothing it out with a spoon to remove all of the chunks. Add in milk, 4 ounces of fontina and all of the parmesan cheese, stirring until melted and smooth, about 5 minutes. If mixture still seems way too starchy, add in additional milk 1/4 cup at a time, stirring for a while. Stir in brown butter, again mixing for a minute or so until incorporated. Taste and season additionally if desired.

Fold shells into the sauce, taking a few minutes to fully toss the shells so they are all coated. Top with remaining fontina cheese (or as much as you see fit) and breadcrumbs and bake for 15 minutes. If a bubbly, golden topping is desired, broil for 1-2 minutes on high after cooking. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve!

To brown the butter: Heat a small saucepan over medium-low heat and add butter. Whisking constantly, cook butter until bubbly and until small brown bits appear on the bottom of the pan – about 5-6 minutes. Watch closely and immediately remove the butter from the heat, whisking for an additional 30 seconds or so.

Easy Butternut Skillet Shells & Cheese I howsweeteats.com

Brown butter for life.

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187 Responses to “Easy Butternut Skillet Shells.”

  1. #
    Kim in MD — October 3, 2012 @ 6:58 am

    You made me laugh this morning (as always). I feel your pain everytime I cut a butternut squash, too. They are scary to chop up! This looks delicious, Jessica! The photo above the recipe is amazing- I love the steam swirling around!


  2. #
    Lauren at Keep It Sweet — October 3, 2012 @ 7:03 am

    I hate cutting up butternut squash… I can’t wait for the day that Costco starts selling the pre-cut again. SO worth it!

    I might use those extra calories burned to consume this entire dish, though.


  3. #
    chelsey @ clean eating chelsey — October 3, 2012 @ 7:06 am

    The first time I cut a butternut squash, I swear I almost cut my fingers off. Now I go the vegetable peeler route. Works like a charm.


  4. #
    HeatherChristo — October 3, 2012 @ 7:08 am

    Freaking amazing. I love how the creamy squash tricks you into thinking it’s cheese.
    I have a very large scar on my right thumb from where I chopped off a piece while peeling a butternut squash. Nasty stuff.


  5. #
    Bev @ Bev Cooks — October 3, 2012 @ 7:09 am

    Omg. I was cutting a couple of acorn squashes the other day this with gigantor CLEAVER and I was like bawling. Shaking. Sweating. It wasn’t a good look for me.

    However it seems to be the only look for me.

    There’s something missing from this dish and I can’t seem to put my fing – oh yeah, my face.


  6. #
    Li — October 3, 2012 @ 7:09 am

    This looks amazing! I can’t stop putting brown butter into everything as well.


  7. #
    Jennifer @ Peanut Butter and Peppers — October 3, 2012 @ 7:14 am

    i love butternut squash pasta dishes. Yours looks absolutely delicious!!


  8. #
    britainknee — October 3, 2012 @ 7:14 am

    Definitely added this to my “Must Try” list- there is something about warm pasta shells that feels so comforting, and the golden color the butternut squash adds is just too beautiful. Love your photos and commentary!


  9. #
    Hope @ With A Side Of Hope — October 3, 2012 @ 7:15 am

    I love butternut squash! It’s by far my favorite squash and I am always looking for new recipes to try with it. I am definitely going to make this. It looks great! :)


  10. #
    Jaclyn — October 3, 2012 @ 7:19 am

    I hate cutting up butternut squash. But oh how i love the taste of it!


  11. #
    Rachel Cooks — October 3, 2012 @ 7:22 am

    I just got an email saying that my baby is now the size of a butternut squash. I keep looking at the squash on my counter and feeling so weird about chopping it up.

    I think I could do it for this recipe. :)


  12. #
    Diane, A Broad — October 3, 2012 @ 7:23 am

    I had the same experience recently. Seriously, grocery stores in Paris, can’t you sell packages of cut-up huge vegetables yet? And I hardly ever need an entire squash. My fridge space is at a premium. Do you hear me, Monoprix?


  13. #
    Su — October 3, 2012 @ 7:24 am

    I’ve been following your (amazing) blog for some time now. I think probably it is my absolute favourite food blog, and I just really wanted to let you know that your posts and your recipes never stop to amaze me. I also just adore the way you write about you and your experiences in the kitchen, I truly believe that makes a lot of diference.
    I inspire myself in a lot of your recipes, but honestly mine never get the perfect and amazing look of yours. Someday maybe :)
    I’m portuguese – so please forgive all my errors – and it is quite difficult to get some ingredients that you use, but recently I found an american supermarket that has quite some stuff :)
    Anyway, just wanted to let you know what a great job you do with this blog.
    Big kiss :)


    • Jessica — October 3rd, 2012 @ 9:29 am

      Thank you so much Su!


  14. #
    Alicia — October 3, 2012 @ 7:26 am

    I have to say i read you every morning before getting the kids off to school ,it really gets my day off to a good start .I have a massive restaurant chefs knife and a good thick pot holder over the tip of the knife ,that really works good.
    I just made lasagna the other night, i shouldn’t do pasta again ,but what the heck.. butternut squash, pasta ,cheese and brown butter .Maybe I’ll make Blondie’s too! Thanks Jesse !


    • Jessica — October 3rd, 2012 @ 9:29 am

      Thanks Alicia!


  15. #
    marla — October 3, 2012 @ 7:34 am

    A glorious comfort food creation!


  16. #
    Aggie — October 3, 2012 @ 7:36 am

    Oh my heavens. A thousand yesses to this pasta and to the fear of winter squash cutting.


  17. #
    the 3volution of j3nn — October 3, 2012 @ 7:38 am

    I need to get a cast iron pan because apparently all that is good in life is created in it!


  18. #
    Leanne @ Healthful Pursuit — October 3, 2012 @ 7:43 am

    Oh man, I’ve been there! It IS a workout, right? Now, I just buy the squash all cut up. Call me lazy, whatever.


  19. #
    Kim@hungryhealthygirl — October 3, 2012 @ 8:02 am

    I am all about pre-chopped butternut squash! This is seriously making me drool….looks so good!


  20. #
    Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat — October 3, 2012 @ 8:02 am

    Oh my, is it possible to have TOO much butternut squash? I don’t think so, and this looks brilliant!! I hear ya on the arm workout. I bought an enormous butternut squash to make the squash & apple soup that I posted today (http://bit.ly/O4sl4o) and it took me forever to peel and dice! Going to load up on more this weekend at the market because your recipe just might have to be next! ;)


  21. #
    Julie @ Table for Two — October 3, 2012 @ 8:16 am

    oh man, i haven’t attempted to cut up butternut squash yet – scary! wegmans sells them pre-cut, halved, and already pre-seeded. i think i’ll go for that option considering i need my arms ;) glad you survived! this dish looks so delicious! i love that crusty cheesy top!


  22. #
    Barbara Stecker — October 3, 2012 @ 8:25 am

    Realllly enjoy your blog! One of my daily go-tos. I agree about butternut squash and found that if you cross cut into cylinder shapes you can then peel it by laying the sections down and cutting straight down towards the board. Anxiety level much lowered! Even the curved portions can be managed! Trander Joe’s also sells prepackaged. Take care!


  23. #
    Stephanie — October 3, 2012 @ 8:28 am

    Brown Butter for Life. hahaha I die. But really, cutting those darn things makes me fear for my fingers’ life every single time. I wonder if you could use the frozen already pureed butternut squash in this in a pinch if you wanted to avoid chopping and keep your fingers intact?


    • Jessica — October 3rd, 2012 @ 9:28 am

      For sure.


  24. #
    Jessica @ Portuguese Girl Cooks — October 3, 2012 @ 8:28 am

    Squash is a pain to peel, veggie peeler works great. Love this! And the brown butter? Obviously amaze-balls!


  25. #
    Melissa — October 3, 2012 @ 8:45 am

    Here’s a tip for squashes and pumpkins and the like…poke them with a fork a few times and microwave for a minute or two. It softens them enough to not make them life threatening but doesn’t cook them. That’s what the Japanese do :)


  26. #
    Claire @ Live and Love to Eat — October 3, 2012 @ 8:50 am

    This looks absolutely incredible – hopefully I can pass it off on my husband as regular old mac & cheese. Have you tried in the steam in bag frozen, pre-cut squash? Would be a safe shortcut! ;)


    • Irene — October 3rd, 2012 @ 8:59 am

      I have not cut up a squash since I discovered the bagged frozen stuff. I bet you couldn’t tell much of a difference in a dish like this.


  27. #
    Erin @ The Spiffy Cookie — October 3, 2012 @ 8:59 am

    Oh my gosh I know! The first time I cut open a squash of any kind I thought I was going to end up slicing my hand off if I slipped. Patience is definitely key in order to avoid injury. God thing Whole Foods has some butternut squash cubed in the frozen section.


  28. #
    Sara — October 3, 2012 @ 9:00 am

    Can I just come and live in your house? I will be a great taste-tester. And Girls marathon partner. Please?


  29. #
    Brindi — October 3, 2012 @ 9:04 am

    Jessica, I love you. You always give me the perfect recipe when I don’t know what to make. I have this butternut squash sitting on my counter at home and I’ve been meaning to make the harvest pizza you featured recently, but we’re out of bacon. And you know what I mean when I say what’s the point? Now I can make this tonight and I don’t need to stop and get any extra ingredients! YAY!

    P.S. If you love Miranda Lambert, make a Pistol Annie’s station on Pandora <3


    • Jessica — October 3rd, 2012 @ 9:27 am

      We love Pistol Annies too!!


  30. #
    brandi — October 3, 2012 @ 9:12 am

    i am always terrified that I’m going to completely slice off my arm when i’m cutting winter squashes. every time. is that totally irrational? i don’t think so.


  31. #
    Ashley — October 3, 2012 @ 9:14 am

    Kind of freaking out about this recipe and laughing at the thought of you tackling a butternut squash. This is how i try to go at it which probably isn’t the best way, but whaddya gonna’ do!? — peel the entire thing holding the top stem, chop the ends, slice in half, scoop the junk out, then cube. They are definitely not easy. This is one vegetable that makes having a really sharp knife quite important. ;) I can’t even imagine how much creaminess the squash adds and I love that you added the pinch of nutmeg.


  32. #
    Jessica — October 3, 2012 @ 9:16 am

    I learned this lesson once the hard way, and have since stopped buying whole squashes. Now I head right for the frozen foods, where they have bags of conveniently chopped little cubes of butternut squash just waiting to be thawed. Oh, laziness.


  33. #
    Katie — October 3, 2012 @ 9:22 am

    Brown butter for life, indeed.

    Chopping up a butternut squash is my least favorite task on this earth. I’d rather scrub my toilet. Will somebody please invent a contraption that does it for us?!


  34. #
    bridget {bake at 350} — October 3, 2012 @ 9:28 am

    I just *almost* licked my screen.

    And…”Yes, I just said girth.” Laughing.Out.Loud.


  35. #
    Lindsay @ The Live-In Kitchen — October 3, 2012 @ 9:43 am

    Ugh butternut squash are so difficult to cut up! I did one the other day and of course it was worth it, but there has to be a better way! As much as I love brown butter I have no patience for it. How lazy is that? I can’t wait 5 minutes for extra delicious fat.


  36. #
    Meg @ Peaches and Cake — October 3, 2012 @ 9:44 am

    You gotta try this trick! I saw it on the Kitchn yesterday. So to roast a squash without slicing your fingers off, you have to roast the squash whole for twenty minutes, then you take it out of the oven and slice it into halves easily, and then you continue roasting for like forty minutes. Genius! http://www.thekitchn.com/quick-tip-an-ea-159575


  37. #
    Emily — October 3, 2012 @ 9:45 am


    heres something to save fingers this season : )
    loooove you’re blog. you’re fantastic dear.


  38. #
    Cookbook Queen — October 3, 2012 @ 9:56 am

    You said Oh Mylanta!! Someone’s been watching Full House before bed….

    I am not a huge squash fan, but this looks completely fab, even to me!!


  39. #
    Ashley@BakerbyNature — October 3, 2012 @ 10:16 am

    Oh girl… I’m dying over here. This… this needs to be breakfast like 3 hours ago.


  40. #
    amy — October 3, 2012 @ 10:22 am

    Oh, my. I have so been craving butternut mac’n cheese! While i prefer local, i must admit my fear of losing life and limb leads me towards Trader Joe’s frozen butternut squash chunks when the man is not at home to tackle the hard as nails squash for me.


  41. #
    Andrea @ Vegvacious — October 3, 2012 @ 10:23 am

    Usually I buy the pre-cut butternut squash for recipes like this. In the Spring, I had a great big brain fart and decided to plant butternut squash in my garden and now I have a boatload of them sitting in my kitchen. it’s kind of a love/hate relationship that’s going on right now – love the taste/hate the prep!!!

    Awesome looking recipe though — I’m pretty sure I’ll go through the pains of prepping a squash if mac n cheese is the end result!!


  42. #
    Ashley @ My Food 'N' Fitness Diaries — October 3, 2012 @ 10:27 am

    Haha I despise cutting up squash… Too bad I love it so much. One of these days I know a finger is coming off too. :/


  43. #
    Carrie @ Kiss My Whisk — October 3, 2012 @ 10:42 am

    I may just have to make this an everyday staple. I LOVED your butternut squash baked penne and will definitely need to give this one a try!


  44. #
    Kristina — October 3, 2012 @ 10:55 am

    It’s just so good when it hits your lips.

    okay THAT’S IT. you make this deliciousness AND you quote one of my favorites? I know I’ve threatened this before, but I am moving in!! I’ll cut all the squash.


  45. #
    Heather (Heather's Dish) — October 3, 2012 @ 11:06 am

    dude, squash is a beating to cut up – at least there’s a meal at the end, right?!


  46. #
    Carly @ Snack Therapy — October 3, 2012 @ 11:41 am

    NEVER apologize for your brown butter obsession. Brown butter is love. My obsession started about 3 years ago when my boyfriend insisted that I try to recreate his beloved Myzithra cheese + brown butter pasta dish from Spaghetti Factory. I could eat it by the spoonful.


  47. #
    Averie @ Averie Cooks — October 3, 2012 @ 11:47 am

    That pour shot of browned butter. Can I just drink that? Or make frosting with it. Or a cake. Or make this! It looks amazing!!


  48. #
    Heather of Kitchen Concoctions — October 3, 2012 @ 11:50 am

    Yum! This looks delish! And I agree some of those squashes can be quite intimidating to cut. PS: Have you tried Brown Butter Rice Krispy Treats? OMG they are good! If you are interested can send you the link to my friend’s blog who has made them a time or two.


  49. #
    Cassie — October 3, 2012 @ 11:54 am

    Love this! PS – Trader Joe’s sells butternuts pre-cut. It’s a lifesaver!


  50. #
    mary @ what's cookin with mary — October 3, 2012 @ 12:06 pm

    I peeled and chopped my first butternut of the season yesterday. I remember the hardest thing about the process was peeling it. I bought a xoxo, heavy duty peeler last year and it makes it soooo much easier. Love me some butternut squash!


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