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Creamy Cajun Stuffed Shells

Creamy Cajun Stuffed Shells

This is a fabulous dish, company worthy, but you may want to double it!

Ingredients

Scale

For the shells:

  • 1/2 of a 12-ounce box of large pasta shells (about 22 to 23)
  • 1 tablespoon salt

For the filling:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 large onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 large stalk celery, finely diced
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 2 teaspoons cajun seasoning (tested with Paul Prudhomme’s Blackened Seasoning )
  • 3/4 cup ricotta
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked, shredded chicken, about a 1/2 pound uncooked (see note)
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten

For the sauce & assembly:

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup cream, heavy or whipping
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley or 2 teaspoons dried
  • salt and pepper to taste (heavy on pepper)
  • a dash or two of hot sauce (Tobasco preferred)
  • 1/2 cup finely grated cheese (recommended: mixture of white cheese like gouda, pepper jack, or provolone along with yellow cheese, like cheddar)
  • finely chopped parsley for garnish

Instructions

Cook the shells:

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Season with plenty of salt and add pasta. Follow timing on package directions, cooking until just al dente. Better to be slightly under-cooked, as they’ll continue to cook while the casserole is baking. Drain, rinse with cold water, separate if needed and set aside. Optional but recommended, layout, open side down on a sheet tray to thoroughly drain.

Make the filling:

In a skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and celery and cook three or four minutes until the mixture appears dry and the vegetables have softened but are still retain some texture and are very slightly crispy. Make a well in the center and add the garlic and cajun seasoning. Cook for a minute, stirring until garlic is fragrant and seasoning has lost its raw flavor. Do not burn.

Remove from heat and add the ricotta, chicken, green onion and lemon zest. Add salt and pepper to taste, heavy on the pepper. Stir in egg. The texture should be about the same as a warm sausage, soft but scoopable but not too thick. Add a bit of water if needed to thin.

For the Sauce & Assembly:

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter. add garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, or until just fragrant. Sprinkle flour over and whisk until the bubbles in the mixture reduce in size and it just starts to turn a bit golden, stirring almost constantly.

Pour in the milk and cream, whisking constantly, bring to a boil and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon and when a finger is run down the spoon, the mixture doesn’t fill it in. The mixture will be loose (it will thicken a bit as it starts to cool.) Stir in parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste, about 3/2 teaspoon of salt and heavy on the pepper, several grinds if using a grinder 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon if using a box. Add in a dash or more of hot sauce. The mixture should be highly seasoned and taste a bit peppery and garlicky but not be spicy.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place a cup of the sauce in the bottom of 9×13 casserole. (If there is an option of sizes, choose a size where the shells fit closely.) Set the rest of the sauce aside. Fill shells with 1 tablespoon of the filling and place in casserole, open side up. When the shells are all filled and placed in the casserole, pour the remaining cream sauce over slowly, making sure all the pasta is covered.

Cover and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with cheese and bake for an additional 10 minutes until hot and bubbly around the edges. If necessary, turn the broiler on until the top of the casserole is golden brown.

Garnish with parsley as desired.

Notes:

  • If not using a Cajun chicken (like my Grilled Blackened Cajun Chicken Breasts add an additional 1/4 teaspoon of Cajun seasoning.
  • To reheat any leftovers, place a serving in a shallow bowl with a tablespoon or two of milk, cover and microwave for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

Keywords: Bargain Meal of the Week, Bell Peppers, Cajun & Creole, Casserole, cheddar, Cheese, Chicken, Chicken Breast, Cream, Gouda, hot sauce, leftover Chicken, leftover turkey, milk, Pasta, Ricotta, Shells

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