NOTE: I OCR’d this from two images I found a while ago. Forget where I saw them. Maybe some Columbo fan forum 🤷♂️
- 12 oz / 340g jumbo shell pasta
- 2 1/2 cups / 560g pumpkin puree, preferably fresh
- 2/3 cup / 70g slivered almonds, toasted and chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Olive oil
- Topping (recipe follows)
- 1 stick / 115g butter or margarine
- 1/2 clove garlic, crushed
- 1/2 cup / 30g soft breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh sage
- Fresh parsley
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Bring 2 quarts / 2 liters of water to the boil in a large pot, adding 2 teaspoons salt. Add the pasta shells, one at a time, to the water while stirring to keep the shells from sticking to the bottom of the pan. After the water comes back to a boil, cook the pasta for about 10 more minutes, continuing to stir occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking to the pan. Move the pot of pasta to a sink where you can run cold water into the pot to cool the shells. Remove the pasta with your hand and set it aside to drain in a colander.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F / 175 degrees C / gas mark 4. In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, almonds, and nutmeg, plus salt and pepper to taste. Put about two tablespoons of the mixture into each pasta shell. Arrange the shells, open-side up and about 1/2 inch apart, in a lightly greased (with olive oil) 9x13-inch baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil that has been oiled very lightly on the bottom.
Bake for about 30 minutes or until the pumpkin is heated through.
While the pasta shells are baking, brown the butter in a flying pan over medium heat, stirring constantly and being careful not to let it burn. Add the garlic and sauté until it becomes translucent. Remove from heat. In a separate frying pan (with no oil), lightly toast the breaderumbs. Add breadcrumbs and sage to the garlic-butter mixture and mixture and mix thoroughly using a fork.
To serve, place the shells on heated plates. Top with 1 teaspoon of the breadcrumb mixture and garnish with parsley. Oh, and just one more thing: pass the Parmesan cheese at the table.
Serves 3 with, as Peter Falk puts it, “2 shells left over for the cook to nibble on.”
Just one more thing… It is this recipe that graces the cover of this book (made and photographed by the wonderful food writer and photographer, my beloved friend, Joan Ransley). Joan made a pimped up version of Peter’s dish, which you’ll find on the Silver Screen Suppers blog. Joan felt that 4 pasta shells per person were plenty, “Even for a greedy guts!” It really made me laugh when she told me that her partner Nick, was known as the “Columbo of Gastroenterologists” when he was younger.
Ace cook Vera Roth in Berlin made her own spelt pasta for this recipe. Instead of making big shells and stuffing them, she “Made it like a classy lasagna: lasagna squares, filling, lasagna squares, filling, and so on.” I’m very impressed! She and her husband enjoyed the dish, but agreed with Joan that there were too many almonds. “Best part, the topping tasted amazing!”
My chum, Michelle Kerry on the South coast of England, also loved the topping, “This would be good served with a sauce, maybe something cheesy, or slightly spicy like an Arrabbiata chili/tomato sauce.” Michelle cracked me up with her comment about how tricky it was to find large pasta shells in her neck of the woods, “It’s been quite a rigmarole down 'ere in 'astings!” But it’s definitely worth seeking them out, they make this dish look so appealing and it’s what Mr. Falk would have wanted.