If you hadn’t noticed from some of my recipes… I loved stuffed foods! It’s like a surprise in ever bite! Ha, I’m such a nerd 😉 But really, stuffed foods are just fun! And although I LOVE my Beef and Pork Stuffed Peppers and Stuffed Cabbage (Golubtsi), these stuffed shells are a new favorite.
Iv’e mentioned that I don’t make pasta very often in our house… and then I proceeded to post 3 back-to-back pasta recipes 😉 LIES! Apparently I need to get on the whole meal planning bandwagon. It’s not that my husband and I crave it; between his “diet” and my thighs, we try to avoid pasta! 😉 I think it comes down to the undeniable combination of simplicity, price, and something your kids will actually eat.
My kids are pretty picky. Actually, I’m not gonna complain… they could be a lot worse! My son is definitely the pickier of the two. But I try not to cook around their pickiness; meaning, I always serve them what I make the family for dinner (it’s up to them whether they eat it or not!) Only when I can’t get dinner done before bed time do I have to make them a separate meal. Which, of course, they always love because the meal will consist of canned soup, microwave pizza bites, or some sort of sandwich! But, in general, when I’m able to get the meal done in time, the battle seems to be a lot easier when it’s a pasta dish…. making my husband and my evening a lot less stressful.
As far as price goes, pasta is relatively cheap (you can usually find a coupon as well) and it packs a punch in terms of how far it will go in filling your family’s bellies at mealtime. But it’s also quick and easy to cook, and you can pair it with anything you have in the fridge… and I mean ANYTHING! That’s actually how I created this recipe… Yeah, super shocking I made a random thrown together meal, right? 😉 I was actually planning on making stuffed cannelloni, but when I went to the store the shells were on sale and by the time dinnertime rolled around, I really didn’t want to make the red sauce because I didn’t feel like cleaning the food processor, lol 😉 (and yes, I make all my pasta sauce from scratch at home. This makes me sound like an overachiever, but its actually a lot cheaper and very simple. Plus, you can make it in bulk and freeze it.) So instead of stuffed cannelloni, I made a simple cream sauce, diced some questionable “fresh” veggies, and grabbed whatever cheese I had in the fridge. Needless to say, it was a complete success. I have made it three times since and devoured it ever time… I mean, no I haven’t… I’m on a diet!
Ok, ok so it’s true… I really have made these shells three times. But I’m a food blogger, it’s not like I have a choice! Work is work! (Ha, I can make an excuse for everything ;)) But anyway, the first time I made this dish was the only time I felt like the recipe needed to be tweaked. The flavor was awesome, but the sauce was a bit too runny. I opted to add flour to the onions before turning it into the sauce (flour is kind of my go to as far as a thickening agent.) This created more of an Alfredo feel to the sauce, even before adding the cheeses.
Aside from thickening the sauce, I did find that the shells can tear during the boiling process; and/or, after boiling, they can get stuck together and tear when you are trying to separate them. To be honest, this is really no big deal, but it bugs me because it makes it a little harder to stuff and organize in your dish. To avoid this, the next time I made it, I just gently drained the pasta (in a plastic strainer if possible) and then laid the shells out on a piece of parchment paper (you can also use wax paper, or a sheet pan.) You will still lose a couple shells while boiling, but this will keep you from losing even more.
Well, that was a long one, but I think that’s about it. This dish is comfort food at it’s finest. Feel free to skip the zucchini or the broccoli; but, I generally like to use at least two veggies just because this dish is a great way to cover them up and sneak them in 😉 I hope you all get a chance to give this recipe a try! You don’t have to cook any of the veggies, just boil the pasta and heat up the sauce! Super easy if you ask me 😉 Comment below and let me know what you think!
8”x11” baking dish
18-22 jumbo shells
2 c. zucchini (about 2 small)
1-1/12 c. broccoli (about 1 floret)
4 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. garlic (minced)
1 purple onion
1 tbsp. flour
1 c. cream
1 ½ c milk
16 oz. ricotta
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. onion powder
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
3 chicken breasts
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. onion powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1-2 c. mozzarella
½ c. parmesan
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the jumbo shells and and try to stir once every minute or so to keep the noodles from clumping together. Cook shells according to box directions. Try not to overcook them or they will be too flimsy to fill. Once al dente, strain and separate shells. Set aside until you are ready to assemble.
- In a large saucepan, heat the butter on medium until melted. Add the minced garlic and diced onion and fry until onions are opaque. (While the onions are cooking you can prepare the chicken by rinsing and trimming the fat. But you can also just wait until the cream sauce is done if you don’t like to multitask ;))
- Once the onions are tender and opaque, add the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt and pepper and mix it all into the onions and butter. The mixture will be a bit dry, but thats ok. Once mixed, add the milk and cream. Gently whisk together until the flour has dissolved and there are no more chunks. Continue to heat on low until the mixture starts to thicken; about 5 minutes.
- While the cream sauce is thickening, whisk one egg in a small bowl. Take the bowl and add about 1/2 -1 c. of the warm cream sauce into the egg bowl. Gently stir it all together. (this helps to keep the egg from cooking when added to the cream sauce.)
- Once mixed, pour the egg mixture into the the cream sauce and gently stir or whisk together. Keep warm on low heat, but try not to let it come to a boil.
- Finally, add in the ricotta cheese. This will also help to thicken the sauce and make it extra creamy 😉 Once the ricotta is full incorporated into the cream sauce, add the shredded cheese. This cheese does not need to melt into the sauce so go ahead and turn off heat and set aside. (You can fully melt the shredded cheese if you want! But when the cheese is not melted and you pour the sauce over the shells at the end, it helps for some of the cheese to get stuck on top of the shells and brown while baking. It’s your call!)
- If you have not already, rinse and trim the chicken. Heat a large skillet on high heat. Once hot, place the chicken on the skillet to fry on high for 2-3 minutes.
- While the chicken is cooking, combine the garlic powder, onion powder, and salt and pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle half of the mixture over the chicken. Once the chicken has cooked on one side for 2-3 minutes, flip the chicken and repeat the process (sprinkle with remaining half of seasoning and fry for 2-3 minutes on high.)
- Turn heat down to low and cover the skillet or pan with a lid. Allow the chicken to steam for 10-20 minutes (if chicken is small, 10 minutes will be enough; if large, steam closer to 15-20 minutes).
- While the chicken is steaming, lightly oil your baking dish. Line the shells however you find works. I like to try to fit 4 rows of 5. (Once you start to stuff them, you will have a better idea of whether you should remove some shells or if you have space to add more.) Set pan aside.
- Cut into the thickest part of your chicken and be sure it it fully cooked. Remove the chicken from the skillet/saucepan and allow to cool until you are able to handle it with your hands.
- At this point you can choose to either shred your chicken with your hands or two forks, or you can simple shop it up into small piece with a knife. The first time I made it, I shredded the chicken. But after that, I decided just to chop it up… It tastes the same and is much easier 😉
- After chopping your chicken, repeat with broccoli and zucchini. Keep broccoli pieces small so that they are able to softer quickly during the baking process. Add the chicken, broccoli, and zucchini into a large bowl.
- Pour half of the cream sauce into the chicken and veggies and combine. Your almost done!
- Gently stuff the shells with the creamy mixture. Try to use all of the mixture. If you get to the point where the shells are fully stuffed and you still have same veggies/chicken leftover, just sprinkle it on top of the shells. No reason to waste it, right!?
- Pour the cheesy cream sauce over the shells. Depending on how tightly packed and stuffed your shells are, the sauce might seem to get stuck on the top. That’s ok! The sauce will even out during the baking process.
- Place the dish on the center rack of the oven and bake for 25-35 minutes or until the top starts to brown. Remove from oven and serve.