When I’m in my cooking ‘zone’, creative juices tend to flow and I start throwing random things together so nothing goes to waste. This recipe is a result of using up leftover chicken and other ingredients I had from other dishes I prepared for the freezer. I figured chicken, pesto, and cheese would work with pasta fairly well and so I hoped for the best. We enjoyed these Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells from the freezer and even my husband was impressed with how these came out! I guess I’ll have to make this again soon and/or experiment some more…
I come from the school that any good-tasting filling is versatile in different applications, whether it be stuffed into baked dough, layered or stuffed with pasta, or even used as a pizza topping.
The chicken pesto filling I came up with is an example of a versatile recipe that would be great in a calzone, stromboli, lasagna, manicotti, or topped on a pizza crust. For this recipe, I used the filling to stuff jumbo shells but feel free to use it however you’d like.
This dish came about after realizing I had quite a few leftovers of pesto, cooked and shredded chicken, various cheese, and jumbo pasta shells. I combined the pesto, chicken and cheese, tasting as I went along until the filling was just right. Feel free to adjust the measurements to your tastes.
Since I prepared this as a freezer meal, I was hopeful it would come out well and it certainly did. When I make this again, I plan on including additional ingredients such as diced red bell pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, or even top the dish with a crunchy topping of buttery panko breadcrumbs before baking.
What is Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells?
Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells is a delightful and flavorful Italian-American dish. It combines two classic comfort foods, pasta and chicken, into one scrumptious meal. Large pasta shells are filled with a mixture of cooked, shredded chicken, rich and flavorful pesto sauce, and a blend of melted cheese. The stuffed shells are then baked in the oven until heated through. Melt the cheese to a golden, bubbly perfection. This dish is often served as a main course. It makes it a great option for family dinners, special occasions, or for when you want to treat yourself to something delicious and satisfying. The combination of the tender pasta, juicy chicken, and flavorful pesto sauce makes for a truly unforgettable dining experience.Print
12–16 jumbo pasta shells
Water for boiling pasta
4oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese + 1/4 cup for topping
3 tablespoons prepared pesto (homemade or store bought)
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
- In a large pot over high heat, boil water and prepare pasta shells as directed on package. Cook pasta shells only until al dente.
- The pasta will finish cooking when you bake the dish. Drain the pasta shells and set aside
- In a large bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients, except the 1/4 cup of cheese for the topping
- Fill the pasta shells with the filling and place in a baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese over filled shells
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake shells uncovered for 30 minutes or until shells are bubbling hot and cheese melts
original Joelen recipe
Key Ingredients in Leftover Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells
- Pasta shells: Large pasta shells serve as the outer casing for the stuffing mixture, and are a crucial component for creating Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells. It’s important to cook the shells al dente. It means they should be firm to the bite, as over-cooked shells may become mushy and fall apart during baking. The pasta shells must have the proper texture to hold the stuffing mixture. So, the structure of the dish depends on them.
- Chicken: Chicken is an essential component of the stuffing mixture. It provides a juicy and tender contrast to the creamy and flavorful mixture of pesto sauce and cheese. The chicken also acts as a source of protein, making the dish a filling and satisfying meal. It’s important to use cooked chicken, whether it’s rotisserie chicken, grilled chicken, or any other cooked chicken that you have on hand, and to shred or chop it into small pieces to ensure even distribution in the stuffing mixture.
- Pesto sauce: Pesto sauce is the star ingredient in this dish. It gives it its bright and aromatic flavor. It is from blending basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil into a smooth and flavorful paste. The basil in the pesto provides a fresh and herby flavor, while the garlic adds a pungent and spicy taste. The Parmesan cheese contributes a nutty and salty flavor, and the pine nuts add a crunchy texture. All of these ingredients are important for creating a well-balanced and flavorful pesto sauce. The flavor of the pesto permeates throughout the dish.
- Cheese: Cheese is another key component of the stuffing mixture. They use it to add creaminess and flavor to the dish. They use a blend of melted cheese, such as Parmesan, mozzarella, or a combination of both. The cheese also helps to bind the stuffing mixture and provides a golden, bubbly texture when baked. You can use different types of cheese to create different flavor profiles and experiment with different cheese combinations. It can result in a unique and personalized dish.
You can add additional ingredients such as salt, pepper, and olive oil to enhance the flavor. Salt and pepper help to bring out the natural flavors of the other ingredients. You can use the Ilive oil to sauté the garlic or as a finishing oil. These ingredients are important as they help to create a well-balanced and flavorful dish. They use it as seasonings in cooking to enhance the overall taste.
* To make ahead/freezer meals – Prepare as directed but place filled shells in an oven- and freezer-proof baking dish. Top with remaining 1/4 cup of cheese over filled shells, cover and freeze. When ready to prepare, defrost. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake shells uncovered for 35-40 minutes or until shells are bubbling hot and cheese melts.
Tips For Making Perfect Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells
There are some tips to help you along the way to make the perfect Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells.
Use A Toothpick To Secure The Stuffed Shells
To prevent the stuffing mixture from spilling out, use a toothpick or small wooden skewer to secure the pasta shell. This will keep the stuffing mixture inside the shell during baking.
Bake At The Correct Temperature
The correct baking temperature is important in order to achieve a golden, bubbly, and delicious Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells. Bake the dish in a preheated oven at 375°F (190°C) for 25-30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the edges are golden brown.
Experiment With Different Ingredients
Customize Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells is a versatile dish to suit your tastes. Experiment with different types of cheese, pesto sauces, and additional ingredients to create a unique and personalized dish.
Frequently Asked Questions
Pesto sauce is a traditional sauce originating from Genoa, Italy. They make it by blending fresh basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil into a smooth and flavorful paste. It has a bright and aromatic flavor with a hint of nuttiness. They use it as a spread, dip, or sauce for pasta, meats, and vegetables. You can purchase pesto sauce at most grocery stores, either in the pasta sauce aisle or in the specialty food section. Some stores carry both traditional and flavored pesto sauces, such as sun-dried tomato pesto or spinach pesto, which can also be used in this recipe.
Yes, pre-cooked chicken can be used to make Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells, as it saves time and is a convenient option for busy weeknights. You can use rotisserie chicken, grilled chicken, or any other cooked chicken that you have on hand. Simply shred or chop the chicken into small pieces and mix it with the pesto sauce and cheese before stuffing the pasta shells. This will add a juicy and tender component to the dish, complementing the creamy and flavorful stuffing.
Yes, you can use different types of cheese in addition to or instead of Parmesan for the Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells. Parmesan is a staple in traditional pesto sauce, but it can be swapped for other cheeses for a unique twist on the dish. Mozzarella cheese is a popular choice as it adds a creamy and gooey texture to the dish. Other options include fontina, provolone, or any other cheese that you prefer. Experimenting with different cheese combinations will allow you to create a unique and personalized dish that suits your taste preferences.