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Whether you need to prepare a big family meal or like to have leftovers, stuffed shells with chicken is a warm, cheesy dish.
Is there anything better than a plate of pasta?
The versatility of pasta never fails to spark my imagination in the kitchen, and even though I’m still cooking for younger taste buds, I love to change up from routine dishes.
Stuffed shells are a favorite, but I don’t make them often. To be honest, I don’t know why not. They’re so satisfying!
I often change the filling for stuffed shells, but ricotta is a must-have to ensure the dish is lusciously creamy.
While stuffed shells often use an Italian pork sausage filling, for this recipe I use ground chicken. It makes the dish slightly lighter, and it tastes wonderful with a marinara sauce.
how to stuff pasta shells
Stuffing pasta shells isn’t difficult, but there are few tricks to make it easier.
One of the problems folks run into is the shells breaking. You can avoid that by cooking the pasta just to barely al dente. This will keep them firm enough for filling, and they will cook more in the oven.
After draining the pasta, pour the shells onto a rimmed baking sheet. This will help them cool so they are more comfortably handled. It’s also easier to grab them as you work!
The baking sheet also makes the assembly line easier. I create a triangle on my kitchen island with the baking sheet, baking dish, and filling. If you have less space, just line everything up on the counter.
You can use a piping bag to fill the shells, but I find it easier to use a large tablespoon. Fill the shells by putting a generous spoonful into the shell, then scraping the spoon against the edge of the shell to cleanly stuff.
Stuffing the shells does take some time, but grab a family member to help! This is a great job for kids, and getting them involved in making dinner always leads to them enjoying it more.
stuffed shells fillings
One of the beauties of stuffed shells is that you can fill them with just about anything!
These have ground chicken, but you can also use Italian sausage, ground beef, leftover roast turkey, or even brisket.
Of course, stuffed shells are excellent as a vegetarian dish. Hearty greens like spinach, kale, Swiss chard or mustard greens work well. Simply sauté them and let cool slightly before adding to the cheese mixture.
Everyone in the family will love these stuffed shells with chicken. They make a big batch, so it’s plenty for everyone at the table.
Stuffed Shells with Chicken
- 12 ounces pasta shells, uncooked
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound ground chicken
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 1/2 cups ricotta cheese, or 1 15-ounce container
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup shredded parmesan
- 1 egg
- 2 1/2 cups marinara sauce
- Preheat oven to 350°F and set aside a 3-quart casserole dish.
- Cook pasta in salted water just to al dente, then drain and spread on a rimmed baking dish to cool.
- Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Cook chicken until no pink remains, then stir in garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and crushed red pepper and cook 2 minutes or until fragrant. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
- In a large bowl, combine ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella, parmesan, and egg. Stir in cooked chicken.
- Spread 1 cup of marinara sauce onto bottom of casserole dish. Stuff shells using a tablespoon and arrange onto dish. Repeat until all the dish is full or you run out of filling or shells. Pour remaining sauce over the top evenly.
- Bake for 30 minutes, then sprinkle on remaining 1 cup mozzarella and bake for 10 minutes more, or until cheese is melted and dish is bubbly.
- Chicken and cheese mixture can both be made in advance to save time at dinner. Store separately in the refrigerator and mix together when ready to stuff and bake.