The filling in these shells is what makes them so delicious - shredded chicken, cream cheese, peppers, onions, black beans, and cumin. Top off with salsa and cheese . . . it doesn’t get better! Plus, freeze an extra pan for later!
Two of my favorite things – Mexican and pasta – are coming together for this recipe: Stuffed Mexican Chicken Shells! (Some call them Taco Stuffed Shells.) One of my favorite things about this dish is that it makes TWO big 9×13” pans, so you can save one of the pans for a busy night when you don’t have time to make dinner, or take one of the pans to a friend who could use a delicious dinner (if you were to bring me a pan of these amazing shells, I promise you that we would be friends for life!). 🙂 Also, using a rotisserie chicken is a great shortcut for this recipe!
How to stuff the shells
After you cook the shells al dente (you don’t want them to be too soft or they won’t hold their filling!), the wiggly noodles can sometimes be hard to stuff. I found that the easiest way is to hold the cooked shell in one hand and then use the other hand to hold a spoon and scoop the filling inside.
One pan now, one pan later (or how to freeze this meal)
If you haven’t learned by now, I LOVE freezer meals. Because this recipe makes two pans of food, I love to stick one pan in the freezer and pull it out on a busy day when I don’t have time to make dinner. To freeze a pan of these shells, prepare as directed except leave off the salsa and shredded cheese topping. Use an air-tight covered container, a disposable aluminum pan that comes with a lid (you can get them at most grocery stores), or you can even place the shells in a gallon-sized resealable bag.
The shells will stay good in the freezer for up to 30 days. When you are ready to eat, remove shells from freezer. Pour the salsa in the bottom of the pan, add the shells to the pan, then top with remaining salsa and cheese. Bake as directed.
Pasta does tend to get mushy when thawed, so if you are going to be freezing these shells, I recommend cooking the shells ONE MINUTE LESS than al dente, just to keep them from being too mushy.
*I did have about 1 1/2 cups of the chicken mixture leftover- we just wrapped it up in flour tortillas for lunch the next day and it was delicious!
(I put one pan in the oven to bake for dinner and then wrapped the other uncooked pan with foil and threw it in the freezer for another night. When you are ready to eat it, pull it out of the freezer 24 hours in advance and let it thaw in the fridge. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes)
2 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes with chiles, undrained (Rotel or store brand)
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 tsp cumin
1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 cups salsa
40 large pasta shells
Cook pasta shells in well salted, boiling water until al dente (still have a little bite to them- if you cook them too long, they will be difficult to stuff). Drain the pasta and set aside while you make the filling.
For the filling, add diced chicken, drained black beans, green onions, diced peppers, and cumin into a large mixing bowl. Mix well.
In a separate bowl, mix the cream cheese, chicken broth and undrained tomatoes with chiles. When thoroughly combined, pour it over the chicken mixture and mix well (if you have trouble incorporating the cream cheese and tomatoes, you can heat it slightly in the microwave).
You will need either 2 9x13" baking pans OR one large baking sheet. Spread 3/4 cup salsa in the bottom of each 9x13" baking pan.
Using a spoon, fill each of your cooked pasta shells with chicken mixture, setting them into the salsa-covered pan. Continue until all shells are filled and arranged in the pans.
When the pans are full, drizzle the shells with the remaining 1/2 cup of salsa (1/4 cup per pan) and then sprinkle with the shredded cheddar cheese.
Cover the baking pan tightly with foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.