Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells

When I'm in my cooking 'zone', creative juices tend to flow and I start throwing random things together so nothing goes to waste. This recipe is a result of using up leftover ingredients I had from other dishes I prepared for the freezer. I figured chicken, pesto and cheese would work with pasta fairly well and so I hoped for the best. We enjoyed these Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells from the freezer and even my husband was impressed how these came out! I guess I'll have to make this again soon and/or experiment some more...

I come from the school that any good tasting filling is versatile in different applications, whether it be stuffed into baked dough, layered or stuffed with pasta or even used as a pizza topping. The chicken pesto filling I came up with is an example of a versatile recipe that would be great in a calzone, stromboli, lasagna, manicotti or topped on a pizza crust. For this recipe, I used the filling to stuff jumbo shells but feel free to use it however you'd like.

This dish came about after realizing I had quite a few leftovers of pesto, cooked and shredded chicken, various cheesse and jumbo pasta shells. I combined the pesto, chicken and cheese, tasting as I went along until the filling was just right. Feel free to adjust the measurements to your tastes. Since I prepared this as a freezer meal, I was hopeful it would come out well and it certainly did. When I make this again, I plan on including additional ingredients such as diced red bell pepper, sun dried tomatoes or even top the dish with a crunchy topping of buttery panko breadcrumbs before baking.

Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells
original Joelen recipe

12-16 jumbo pasta shells
water for boiling pasta
4oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese + 1/4 cup for topping
3 tablespoons prepared pesto (homemade or store bought)
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot over high heat, boil water and prepare pasta shells as directed on package. Cook pasta shells only until al dente. The pasta will finish cooking when the dish is baked. Drain the pasta shells and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients, except the 1/4 cup of cheese for the topping. Fill the pasta shells with the filling and place in a baking dish.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese over filled shells.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake shells uncovered for 30 minutes or until shells are bubbling hot and cheese melts.

* To make ahead/freezer meals - Prepare as directed but place filled shells in an oven- and freezer-proof baking dish. Top with remaining 1/4 cup of cheese over filled shells, cover and freeze. When ready to prepare, defrost. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake shells uncovered for 35-40 minutes or until shells are bubbling hot and cheese melts.


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