Monday, June 10, 2013

Pesto Chicken Shell Game

There are a lot of really great pesto pasta shell recipes on the internet.  One, with chicken, seems to have been copied about quite a bit.  

I use a different selection of cheeses in my Pesto Chicken Shells and add chopped broccoli.  Adding a vegetable helps to lighten the filling and who can deny that pesto loves broccoli?  It surprises me that more recipes don't include more vegetables in rolled, stuffed and ground dishes. 

Just last week I made a wonderful chicken enchilada with a pumpkin sauce that was crying out for mushrooms and zucchini in the filling.  Next time, I may skip the chicken and use all veggies plus black beans, one of pumpkin's best friends. 

Pesto Chicken Shells are very simple but take about 45 minutes to prepare if you are not using already cooked chicken, so plan ahead.  Other than that they are easy, you can recruit help for the stuffing stage and you can even freeze the un-sauced shells individually for a quick, pure dinner down the road.

Pesto Chicken Shell Game
Yield: about 20 shells

20-22 jumbo pasta shells
1 large chicken boneless breast (or 1 ½ cups leftover cooked chicken)
1 cup broccoli florets
2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided
1 ounce cream cheese
1/2-3/4 cup pesto sauce

1-2 cups marinara sauce
1-2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
¼ pine nuts (optional)

  1. Poach chicken breast, cool and dice into small pieces. 
  2. Meanwhile, steam broccoli until juts tender, 5-6 minutes.  
  3. Cook pasta shells according to package directions, opting for the shorter amount of time listed in the package and when the shells are flexible enough to open without breaking but not fully cooked.  (Toss in a few extra shells in case any tear.)
  4. While pasta cooks, combine the chicken, half the mozzarella, cream cheese and ½ cup pesto in a large bowl.  
  5. Chop cooked broccoli to about the size of the chicken pieces and fold into chicken mixture.  
  6. Taste and add salt and pepper or more pesto, to taste.  These are pesto shells so you want that flavor to stand out.
  7. When shells are ready, rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process.  Drain thoroughly.  Using a teaspoon, fill each shell with about 2 heaping teaspoons of filling.  Set each filled shell in a lightly oiled baking pan. (and 8”X8” pan will fit the shells snugly).  
  8. At this stage, you may freeze the shells. Once frozen, they can be repackaged into individual servings for later use.  
  9. If enjoying tonight, preheat oven to 350˚F.  Pour marinara sauce over shells (use a light touch) and cover with remaining mozzarella cheese and the Parmesan cheese.  Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes.  
  10. During the last few minutes of baking, sprinkle whole pine nuts over the cheese.  Allow the pasta dish to rest a few minutes out of the oven before serving.  This will help with a neat service.  Pass extra heated marinara if your family likes more sauce. 
Enjoy your vegetables and preserve your garden's bounty.  More ideas coming this summer.