Sometimes things just get stuck…

You are probably wondering from the title, “Where in the world can he take this?” I am not sure where because there are so many possibilities. I could go the dirty old man route (sometimes I do fit the bill for that) but I am not quite sure the equipment is large enough, and, I am pretty sure somewhere some guy has that angle covered. Or, I could do the handy man route, having to use a hammer, some pliers or other implement of destruction to free a kitchen utensil from an angry piece of food.  However, this is more of a food dream gone rabid where the idea would not leave me alone until I made the dish.

The whole idea started innocently enough while looking at a jar of artichokes in the grocery store after buying some chicken for the night’s meal.  After that, I happened to stroll down the “international aisle” (ever notice that “international” is only Asian, Mexican and Italian in most stores) and saw that the large baking shells were on sale and that is when the idea clicked.  I thought that I would be able to modify my normal stuffed shells recipe to accommodate finely diced chicken with artichoke and that, if done right, the flavors would play nice with one another. Excited, I brought the idea home to see what people would think. Well, it went over like the proverbial lead balloon. There were no scrunched faces or dry heaving but the silence was deafening. Somehow, I would have to have an excuse to make these so that we would be able to taste them or…I would need to have guinea pigs, testers, critics, if you will, willing participants in this culinary expedition but where to find them. I guess I could have rid the house of all food except for chicken, artichokes and the other ingredients but I was pretty sure that was not going to fly so I had to wait, and wait, and wait for a chance.

My chance came when my daughter, and her significant other were asked if they would be willing subjects in my food experiment (thankfully they normally are). They agreed and the rest is history.  The recipe was 3 months in my head and on a scrap piece of paper but now here it is!

I Artichoke You

(Baked Stuffed Shells with chicken)

The Well Fed Cyclist, Gary Bechard

Note: Bold print is the “Date Night” version

Ingredients:

30 – 40 oz of either your own or 2 jars of store bought, Alfredo sauce (I use the light version)

I would use 1 ½ jars or about 24 oz  

1 lb – boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed (make them small cubes)

1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast (make them small cubes)

4 cloves – Garlic, fine chopped

            2 cloves, fine chopped

1/2 cup – Sweet onion, fine diced (about 3 to 4, 1/8th inch slices)

¼ cup sweet onion, fine diced

1 – 10 ounce jar of artichoke hearts, drained and fine diced (I used ones that were in sunflower oil and not the marinated.)

4 to 5 artichoke hearts drained and fine diced

30 oz – Ricotta cheese (I use the skim version but whole is good too)

15 oz container of ricotta

2 cups – shredded mixed Italian cheeses or mozzarella (I like the mixed better)

1 cup shredded Italian cheese

1½ cups – shredded Parmesan cheese (divided)

¾ cup shredded Parmesan (divided)

½ cup of fresh chopped parsley or (if you have to) 2 tbsp dried parsley flakes

¼ cup fresh chopped (or a small handful) or 1 tbsp

7 basil leaves fine chopped or (if you have to) 1 tbsp dried basil

3 -4 fresh basil leaves or 1 tbsp dried basil (it won’t hurt you)

1 tsp coarse ground black pepper

Leave the same or reduce to 1/2 tsp

1 box of large stuffing shells (I use Barilla because they hold together better while cooking)

½ box of shells

Extra virgin olive oil

Construction Instruction:

Note: This will take either a 9 X 13 baking dish for family sized or 10 X 6 for the Date Night version

In a non-stick skillet, sweat the onion and garlic in olive oil (about three turns around the pan should do it for the olive oil or if you really have to measure about 3 to 4 tablespoons). The onions should become almost clear and do not let the garlic get brown because then it will just be bitter. Note: remember that olive oil has a pretty low smoke point so the heat should be medium or just a shade below.  Then add and thoroughly cook the diced chicken breasts. What you want to have when you get done are small ¼ inch by ¼ inch, or thereabout, pieces.  When done set them aside.

Place ricotta, shredded cheeses, half the Parmesan cheese, parsley, basil, pepper, artichoke hearts and chicken in a large bowl and fold the mixture together until thoroughly combined.  (Note: I would scrape all the olive oil and onion goodness into the mixture from the skillet since you do not want to miss out on any of that flavor.) After everything is married together, take and refrigerate mixture. (This will help the mixture set up and make it easier to stuff the shells)

Prepare the shells according to the package instructions minus 30 seconds on the longest time listed on the box. (I gently boil mine for around 9 minutes 30 seconds) Drain and cool by spraying cold water on them to stop the cooking process. In the bottom of the baking dish pour and spread half of the Alfredo sauce on the bottom of the pan. (Make it nice an even along the bottom.)  Taking the refrigerated stuffing mixture, spoon into shells (Each shell will take about 1 tbsp of mixture) and arrange in the bottom of the baking dish with the openings facing up.  It is okay to stack them if you need to because more than one layer is fine as they will bake together pretty well.  When you have finished pour remaining sauce over top of shells and spread the second half of Parmesan over top.  Bake in a preheated, 350 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes.

This was served with an Italian salad with quartered artichoke hearts, cucumber, cherry tomatoes and dressed with shaved fresh Parmesan, olive oil and red wine vinegar.

Enjoy!

The Well Fed Cyclist

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