This pasta dish, with its sweet squash and smooth ricotta, could very quickly fall on the bland, or too sweet side. To make it really work, you need lots of lemon in the filling and a bit of spice in the tomato sauce.
For the filling:
One large butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeds removed
Handful fresh basil, finely chopped
Parmesean cheese, for grating
For the tomato sauce:
500ml passata or crushed tomatoes
2 large cloves garlic, minced
½ – 1 tsp chilli flakes (depending on how spicy you like it)
1 heaped tsp dried oregano
Rub the inside of the squash halves with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast at 200C / 190C Fan / 400F on a foil-lined baking sheet for an hour, or until very tender. Let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, in a cold saucepan add 1 tbsp of olive oil, the garlic, chilli flakes, oregano, salt and pepper. Turn the heat on to medium and let it come up gently. When the garlic is sizzling and fragrant (but not brown), add the passata and 250ml of water and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and let bubble away for at least 20 minutes, up to an hour. The sauce may seem thin, but it will thicken as the pasta bakes.
When the squash has cooled enough to handle, scoop out the flesh of the squash and mash with a fork or put through a potato ricer. Add the zest and juice of one lemon, the ricotta, basil, about ¼ of a grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. Taste – you should be satisfied there is enough lemon coming through and the seasoning is correct. If not, add more.
In a large baking dish, add about 1/3 of the tomato sauce and spread across the base of the dish.
Spoon the butternut ricotta mixture into a plastic ziploc bag and snip off a bottom corner to form a makeshift piping bag. Pipe the filling generously into the cannelloni tubes – no half-filled shells, please – and place neatly in rows into your sauce base. Continue until you have a complete layer. Spoon the remaining tomato sauce on top and grate over a blanket of parmesan. Cover with foil and bake at 175C / 350F for one hour, removing the foil for the last 15 minutes. Bake until golden and bubbly and the pasta has cooked. Serve with a simple green salad.
Make ahead: Assemble the pasta dish and refrigerate for up to 2 days, or freeze. Let thaw in the fridge before baking.