Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dinner - Shells Stuffed with Chicken and Summer Vegetables

Shells Stuffed with Chicken and Summer Vegetables

Cheesy jumbo shells stuffed with Italian seasoned chicken, zucchini, yellow squash, mushroom, and melted cheese. Warm tomato sauce is poured over the shells. Chiffonade mint and chopped parsley are sprinkled on top as garnish. Each bite is cheesy, refreshing, and infused with flavor and texture. How does that sound for dinner?

I think it sounds perfect for a family meal. Simple, healthy, and colorful.

I admit it. I love pasta. I might even be addicted. There’s just so much you can do with pasta. They come in every size and shape, which, in my opinion, gives it a different texture. Recently, as I was browsing Pinterest, I stumbled across photos of jumbo shells stuffed with spinach and cheese. They reminded me of the ravioli from Costco. I really wanted to try making them but, of course, with my own twist. If I’m going to make myself, and my family, dinner, it has to include my favorite ingredients and a lot of color.

In this case, I decided that I wanted the shells to be filled with chicken, zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, and  cheese. You’ll discover that I love vegetables. I’m not a vegetarian, but I eat like one. Sometimes I forget to add meat to the meal and don't even realize it until my cousin complains that there’s not enough protein for him. Oops.  

Buy a box of jumbo shells. I got mine from Walmart, but I’ve seen them at Safeway too. Just get whatever brand you like best, or whichever is cheapest. I go for the latter. For me, about 5 stuffed shells were enough for dinner, so about 20-24 shells for a family of four, but you can adjust the amount accordingly. One box comes with about 40 shells.  Boil the pasta according to the directions on the box. The ones I bought needed to be cooked for 15 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, you can prepare the other ingredients, but keep an eye on the pasta. I forgot to stir for a few minutes so some of the pasta got stuck to the bottom of the pot. Oops. After finishing chopping and slicing all the veggies and chicken, set them aside. Your pasta should be ready to drain by now. Make sure that you run them through cold water so that they don’t stick to each other. Set the shells aside to cool and drain completely.

Now add a little oil to a nonstick pan and cook the chicken first. Season the chicken with Italian seasoning, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of red crushed peppers. You want the chicken to have a lot of flavor. No one wants to eat bland chicken, right? 

Once the chicken seems almost cooked, add the grated zucchini and yellow squash and the sliced mushrooms. Add more Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper, and salt, adjusting to your taste. I like spicy so I tend to add more peppers to mine. Cook until the vegetables are just about completely cooked. The zucchini and yellow squash will still have a little crunch to them. Take them off the heat.

Let the chicken and veggies cool down a little, then you’ll want to shred the chicken into smaller pieces. You can do this with either your hands or with a fork. That way the chicken isn’t too chunky when you stuff them into the shells. Drain the chicken and the veggies so that they don’t make the pasta soggy. Mix cheese in with the chicken and the veggies until it is nicely combined. This will ensure that the pasta will taste the same throughout.

I know. The picture of the chicken and vegetables looks really green. Maybe I’ll add red bell peppers or tomatoes or even eggplants next time so that it's more colorful.

Line a 13x9 baking pan with foil. Then pour a little pasta sauce into it to lightly cover the bottom. I used Ragu Chunky Mushroom. This will keep the pasta from drying up and from sticking to the pan. Start stuffing the chicken, vegetable, and cheese mixture into the shells and set them with the open side up on the pan. Once you are done with that, set the baking pan aside.

Heat the tomato sauce in a pan. Cook the reserved mushrooms in the sauce and add any of the leftover vegetables or chicken into the sauce too. Mix in some mint and parsley for a refreshing taste. Once the raw mushrooms are cooked, pour the sauce over the shells so that it’s completely covered in red.

Cover the pan with foil and place it into the oven for about 15-20 minutes until the entire dish is warm and bubbling. If you like melted cheese, top the pasta shells with grated cheese and stick back into the oven for another few minutes or until the cheese melts. Now you can plate the shells and add mint or basil and parsley for garnish.


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