That's the beauty of cooking. You can adapt recipes to your taste. Claire Robinson on Food Network always says, "Be your own chef!" I think a lot of people look at recipes and think "Oh I don't like this one ingredient, so I won't like this recipe." Uhh, HELLO?! Change it! I am always omitting things in recipes (like peppers...yuck) Always keep an open mind when it comes to food. It is so flexible and it really is an art. Be the artist of your own plate.
Okay. That sounded lame, but I'm goin' with it.
Now don't go around saying that I told you that you could omit things you don't like in every recipe. There really are some recipes that are just not meant to be changed. For example, you won't catch me scarfing down a stuffed pepper anytime soon. We all know I don't like peppers, so I'll just get something else while everyone enjoys their disgusting meal of the worst vegetable ever being stuffed with God knows what. The peppers are the main part of that recipe, so just leave it alone.
I'm talking about making smart swaps. Like swapping chicken for beef, or omitting little ingredients in things if you're not a fan. I tend to omit peppers and tomatoes in things.
Baking is another thing though. Swapping is not encouraged. Baking is all about being precise and it should not be messed with. We'll talk about this later.
Anyways, this is the first recipe that I can really call my own. I'm not saying I discovered it or created it because I'm sure there are recipes out there that are really similar, but this is how I make stuffed shells.
Cheesy, chicken and spinach stuffed, yummy, deliciousness.
This was the most requested thing I made at school. My roommate Erin loves these shells and I've been asked for this recipe several times. One of the best things about them is that they can feed an army. We always had leftovers (which are even better the next day) and they last forever.
So basically, you should try them. And then let me know what you think.
And feel free to change the recipe if you want! I won't be offended! You could absolutely cook some ground beef or ground turkey and use that instead of shredded chicken. You could omit the spinach or use arugula instead.
Heck, you could omit the chicken and the spinach and just stuff these bad boys with cheese! I'm talkin' to you vegetarians!! Just use the ricotta and then get some really good, shredded italian cheeses, like parmesan, mozzerella, romano....and you can leave the spinach in. You get the picture.
Onto the recipe!
Chicken & Spinach Stuffed Shells
1 pkg. jumbo shells
1 jar of your favorite tomato sauce
1 jar of your favorite alfredo sauce
1 (2 lb) carton of ricotta cheese (whole or part-skim)
1 small onion, chopped (or half of a larger onion)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 half of a bag of baby spinach
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. your favorite seasoned salt (I use Johnny's)
1/4 c. parmesan cheese
1 bag of shredded mozzarella cheese or italian blend cheese
shredded chicken (either chicken you cooked yourself or from a rotisserie chicken from the store)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. It's important to salt pasta water because it helps flavor the pasta. Just trust me.
In the meantime, go ahead and chop your onion up.
Get out a large skillet and get it heating up over medium heat. Pour in about 3 tbsp. of olive oil and let that get hot. Once it's hot, slide in the onion and let it start cooking away.
Get out a couple big handfuls of spinach and give them a rough chop. There is no science to this. Just run your knife through them a few times so they're not in big, leafy pieces any more. (Sorry, I forgot to take a picture!) The thing with spinach is that it looks like a ton of greens when you toss it in the pan, but I promise it cooks down and will turn out to be a lot less than it looks. So get out more spinach than you think.
Once the onions have been cooking for a few minutes and start to look translucent, slide in the spinach and toss it all around so the spinach gets coated in the oil. It should wilt pretty fast.
As you can see, I didn't add enough spinach. No worries! Just chop up some more and throw it in. Then let it wilt with the rest of it.
Once that is wilted, chop up a couple cloves of garlic and slide them in. We're doing the garlic last because garlic can burn really quickly. If you burn your garlic you'll end up being completely pissed off, you'll have to fish it out and it won't smell good. (I've been there.) Toss all that around so everything is combined well.
Oops, I forgot to tell you to shred the chicken up ahead of time. Whoops! Okay. Make sure your chicken is shredded....then toss it in!
I just bought one from the store. Easy! They're only about $5 and you can use the meat in anything.
Your mixture should look like this! Onions translucent and everything is cooked down and smells awesome.
If things start to look a little dry in the middle of the cooking process, just pour in a little more olive oil. I try and have everything coated in olive oil because it keeps it moist, but the oil also adds a lot of flavor. Once everything is combined, take this mixture off the heat and let it cool for a little bit. Then let your mouth water because it smells so dang awesome.
That big pot of water should be boiling by now. Dump in the box of shells and let those cook for about 10 minutes or so.
Now let's get that yummy ricotta mixture together.
Thank you, Target, for reading my mind that I was going to make these this week and putting the ricotta on sale. I love you.
Dump the whole container into a bowl.
It doesn't look very pleasant when it first comes out, now does it?
Break that up and get it to a smooth consistency. Now it's time to mix in all those seasonings! Use whatever you want here. I use dried parsley, dried basil, dried oregano, seasoned salt, garlic powder, and parmesan cheese, but honey, just see where the wind blows you. It will be tasty no matter what!
All combined and pretty :)
Your pasta should be cooked by now, so drain it in a colander and run some cold water over it. This will not only stop it from cooking, but you're going to have to handle the shells with your hands and you don't want them to be hot when you're doing that!
While the pasta is cooling off, combine the chicken/spinach mixture with the ricotta mixture. Now you have the filling for these beautiful shells!
You're probably wondering when I'm going to talk about the sauce in this dish. Would now work? Okay, what I do is I combine a jar of tomato sauce with a jar of alfredo sauce. Yes, I understand this probably sounds weird, but it works.
You see, I don't love straight up tomato sauce and my roommate Erin doesn't love straight up alfredo sauce. So the natural thing to do was meet in the middle and combine the two. I've made it this way ever since! However, feel free to do what you want. Use just tomato or just alfredo and use something else. Maybe something homemade? (Overachievers!)
Dump the two in a bowl and stir until it's all combined. Get out the pan you're going to use. I used a large baking dish... I want to say it was 15"x10" or something in that ballpark. Pour some sauce in the bottom and spread it so it covers the bottom. This will keep the shells from drying out while they're in the oven and it will keep them from sticking to the bottom. Make sure you leave enough sauce so you can pour some on the shells once they're in there!
Here comes the
messy fun part! It's time to stuff the shells!
Set up a little assembly line for yourself. You want the baking dish nearby and the filling nearby. I usually do this near the sink so I don't have to move the colander.
Take a shell and open it up in your palm. I cup my hand so it sits open while I stuff it.
Then spoon in enough filling to fill it (a heaping tablespoon or so... use your best judgment).
I tend to overstuff them because who wants to cut into a barely stuffed shell? Not me!
By the way, if you come across a shell that is not, let's say, in it's best shell form, just don't use it. Some will be ripped and broken and they just aren't pretty. You can use those last if you absolutely have to.
Once the shell is stuffed place it in the baking dish. I like to line them up in rows so they look nice. Just keep repeating until you can't fit anymore in the dish! You'll probably have a little filling leftover and some shells leftover. No biggie!
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spoon the remaining sauce over the shells, but don't drench them in sauce. They don't like to swim.
Top with some shredded cheese and then cover the dish with foil. I like to bake them covered at first so they get heated through and then I remove the foil so the cheese will melt and brown.
To die for.
Cover this slice of heaven and put it in the oven for 30 minutes. This will allow it to get piping hot and delicious. Then remove the foil (be careful, it's hot!) and pop it back in the oven. Bake for another 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and slightly brown. You may have to crank the heat up a tad.
Just took the foil off!
Let these cool for a little bit once you take them out of the oven. I've burned my mouth on them several times in my life and it's painful. Take it from me and do yourselves a favor. Sit on your hands if you have to!
Spoon a few shells out onto all your friends' plates and watch their mouths water. Then bask in all their compliments and give them the recipe.
Then enjoy a few for yourself, along with a slice of Texas Toast. They'll be just as good the next day too :)
Hope y'all enjoy!