Friday, January 25, 2013

Freezer Friday: Basil Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells

I'm starting a new weekly series on my blog called Freezer Friday!  Every Friday, I will share a freezer-friendly recipe or related tip with you.  Sometimes it's hard to fit cooking a good meal into my already busy schedule.  I started freezer cooking about 18 months ago and it drastically changed my life.  I eat better, healthier, tastier food.  I spend less at the grocery store.  I rarely eat out.  Freezer cooking is just a perfect way for me to ensure I always have something (almost) ready-made to grab and enjoy.

The first recipe I'm going to share with you is for these yummy basil pesto chicken stuffed shells.  I finally added a better photo.  It took me 10 months, but I did it!  The shells still taste just as good when I first made them.

I'm leaving the crappy iphone photo up.  It's kinda all over pinterest now.

Let's get cooking (or prepping really--since this is for the freezer)!  
Cast of characters:  jumbo shells, Parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, basil pesto, boneless skinless chicken breasts, cream cheese, and garlic
Three chicken breasts in the pan (that's about 1.5 pounds).  Cook 'em up.  I sort-of steam cook my chicken.  I use a cast iron pan, put the burner on low, and cover the pan with a lid.  It's okay if you don't fully cook the chicken because it gets cooked again later.  While you are by the stove, grab a pot and boil the shells.  I forgot to take a picture of that step.

Put the cooked chicken in your stand mixer/food processor/whatever
Add the paddle
Start the mixer
After a minute, you have shredded chicken!

While the chicken and pasta are cooking, shred the mozzarella cheese.  I always buy block cheese because it takes minutes to shred myself and it's cheaper.  I'm all about saving money where I can.  You also need to chop up the garlic--about three or four decent-sized cloves.  Don't forget the garlic. 
Add the mozzarella, Parmesan, garlic, and basil pesto
Add the cream cheese
Mix everything together.  It will look funny and someone will probably walk past and say "Eeww, gross!"  Just trust me on the deliciousness.
After all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, grab the shells (again I forgot to take pictures!) you cooked and drained and use a spoon to fill them with the mixture.  If you follow my recipe, you will have exactly enough to fill all the shells.  I generally have 42 shells total in the one pound box.
Close-up!  So much noms all in one place!

The innards spilled out of this one when I lifted it from the baking dish.  Oops.

Cheesy olive-oily basily goodness.
Remember that tip I gave you for the cookies from over here?  Use that same flash-freezing method if you are going to be freezing these shells for future consumption.  After the shells have some cool-down time in the freezer, you put them in a freezer bag, write the date and contents on the white space, and put the bag back in the freezer.  Easier than pie, right?  When you are ready to cook the shells, preheat your oven to 350° and bake uncovered for about 30 minutes from frozen.  I typically only bake 3-4 shells at a time for myself at work, so I really can't speak for the amount of time it would take to bake the entire recipe from frozen.  I would guess just cook the shells at 375° for 30-45 minutes and that would be fine.  

**Lots of people on the internet have commented that the shells become hard during baking.  I've never had that happen unless I've completely forgotten about my food in the oven and overcooked it, but I do want to address the issue.  You could cover the baking dish with foil to keep the moisture in, cover the shells with loads of cheese before baking, or even add some milk to the baking dish to up the moisture content.  Also, keep your eye on the oven.  You may not need to cook it for the full 30 minutes--15 to 20 minutes may be fine for you and your oven.**

I hope lots of people enjoy this series and the recipe.  I promise it's delicious.  I'm one of those people who believe life is too short to eat food that doesn't taste good.  Leave me a comment and let me know what you thought of the recipe!  Have a great weekend!

For a printable version of this recipe, click here.  (recipe will open in a new window)

Basil Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells

1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about three whole breasts)
1 one pound box jumbo shells
1 pound mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup Parmesan cheese
4 oz cream cheese
1 8oz jar basil pesto (or one cup if you choose to make your own sauce)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced

Cooking Instructions:
Boil the pasta shells according to package directions.  Drain and allow to cool for safe handling later.  Cook the chicken breasts until no pink remains and shred the meat in a stand mixer or similar kitchen appliance.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix to thoroughly incorporate all the ingredients.  Spoon the chicken and cheese mixture into each shell.  Arrange the filled shells in a baking dish and top with additional mozzarella cheese, if desired.  Bake at 350° for 30 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. 

For the freezer:  once the shells are filled, place the shells on a baking sheet covered with wax paper and flash freeze.  Once frozen, put the shells in a freezer bag.  From frozen, bake at 375° for 30 minutes.  (As mentioned in the post, I only bake 3-4 shells at a time from frozen and at 350° for 30 minutes.  The cooking time for the full recipe is estimated based on past experiences.)


  1. This looks delicious! Thanks for sharing the recipe -- will definitely try it!

    1. I hope you enjoy them! I love these pasta shells. They are the perfect food happiness delivery vessels.

  2. When this gets baked, don't the shells get dry or crispy since there is no sauce in the dish, given the oven temp and cooking time?

    1. If you don't top them with cheese before baking, the shells will get crispy on the edges when cooked from frozen. This doesn't bother me though. Just top with more mozzarella to keep that from happening. I haven't found the shells to get crispy when I cooked them the same day I made them. It also depends on how close together the shells are to share the moisture while baking. Great question!

      I just saw your comment. Sorry it took me so long to reply.