This recipe is my twist on the more traditional stuffed shells that often include ricotta and ground beef with a savory tomato marinara. Sometimes, especially in colder weather, I want to serve my family a dish that’s more stick-to-the-ribs. I’ve taken this idea and paired it with some springtime flavors—grilled chicken, peppers, onions, garlic, and spinach—to create a comfort dish with a primavera edge.
I served this two ways—the first night with garlic bread and a simple grape tomato-onion-cucumber salad. The leftovers, I served for lunch the next day. I decided to serve them on a bed of pesto sauce, just for a flavor change
(pictured). If you like this idea, you could use a good quality store-bought pesto or you could make your own. There are so many good pesto recipes out there, so you decide which one you like. As you might have guessed, I like Ina Garten’s and Ree Drummond’s best. Here are their links:
|Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2015|
By the way, that tomato salad I mentioned earlier is not pictured, but if you’re interested, here’s what I did: Take two cups grape tomatoes, sliced in half, one cucumber, sliced in thin wheels, and ½ of a sliced red onion, and set aside. In the bottom of a glass or wooden salad bowl, drop one large clove of crushed garlic, and some salt and pepper (start with just a little of each). Add one tbs. of red wine vinegar and mix together with a fork. Next, add one tsp. Dijon mustard, and stirl together. Finally, add ¼ cup olive oil and mix together. Add tomatoes, cucumber, and onion, then toss to coat. Taste, then add salt and pepper to your flavor preference. Maybe you’ll want a little more vinegar too—you decide. Allow to rest, covered, in fridge for at least 1 hour. The flavors will blend beautifully and the acidity will cut the creaminess of the shells.
These stuffed shells are decadent, and they are as easy as can be to prepare. Try them with your family before the weather warms too much! March is the perfect transition month for this dish—a little taste of primavera with a lot of creamy, comforting goodness.
Primavera Stuffed Shells
1 (12 oz.) box jumbo stuffed shells, boiled until just before al dente, drained, and set aside
For the shell filling:
3 cooked chicken breasts, chopped (grilled or roasted)
½ green pepper, chopped
½ red pepper, chopped
1 large sweet onion, chopped
2 cups finely chopped baby spinach, stems removed
4 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil, for the sauté pan
1 (16 oz.) container whole milk ricotta AND 1 (8 oz.) container whole milk ricotta (OR if your market has a 24 oz. container OR if you have another use for an extra 8 oz. container, buy it that way-- you decide)
8 oz. shredded Monterey Pepper Jack cheese
8 oz. shredded Mozzarella cheese
1½ cups grated Parmesan-Asiago-Romano cheese blend
4 basil leaves, chopped
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
salt and pepper, to taste
For the sauce:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
¼ cup butter
4 oz. cream cheese, cubed
1½ cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove minced garlic
½ cup chopped Italian parsley
salt and white pepper, to taste
tomato sauce or pesto for coating baking dish
Spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray, then coat the bottom with a VERY thin layer of tomato sauce or pesto.
In a pan, sauté the onions and peppers with a bit of salt and pepper until tender. Add garlic, spinach, and chicken. Mix well. Set aside to cool.
In a large mixing bowl, combine ricotta, eggs, and basil. Salt and pepper the mixture. Add Monterey Pepper Jack, Mozzarella, and Parmesan-Asiago-Romano cheeses. Mix thoroughly. Add chicken mixture and basil; stir to combine.
Holding a shell in your clean hand, use a small spoon to scoop the filling into each shell. Add to the 9x13 pan to make one layer of shells, slightly pressed together for support. I over-fill the shells because I like the filling to spill out into the white sauce, but that’s up to you. With any additional filling, you can either spread it along the top of the shells or save it for another dish (like a baked spaghetti later in the week!).
Once you have a pan of filled shells, make the sauce* and pour over the shells while the sauce is hot. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, until the mixture is hot and bubbly.
*To make the sauce:
Melt butter on medium-low heat in a saucepan. Add garlic. Cook for about 1 minute. Add heavy cream and stir until warm. Add cubed cream cheese and continue stirring until melted. Add Parmesan cheese, parsley, and salt and white pepper to taste. Stir until thick and well combined. If any accidental lumps appear when adding cheese, just use a whisk to break them.