While many people are attempting to eat a bit healthier in the New Year, some of the year's coldest weather fights against that urge by pushing us toward heavy comfort food. My solution to this issue to to compromise and find ways to lighten traditional comfort food favorites so that, even if they are not exactly light, they do offer a better option than the original while still scratching that comfort food itch.
A perfect example is one of my favorite stuffed shells recipes. Instead of stuffing the shells with a heavy ricotta cheese mixture, I opt for a blend of chopped chicken and vegetables with a bit of flavorful gorgonzola. What's more, I don't bother boiling the shells and leaving myself with burned fingertips. Instead, I tuck the filling into raw shells and put them into a baking dish with some of my family's homemade tomato sauce spread on the bottom. Then I add more tomato sauce and some chicken broth and let the oven transform the pasta shells into tender pockets of flavor before uncovering the pan and adding some shredded mozzarella to the top and baking that until melted.
The end result of this effort is a pasta dish that's warm, filling, and much lighter than the typical stuffed shell recipe. Add a green salad at the table and dinner is served!
- 1 pound fully cooked boneless skinless chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup packed, chopped kale or spinach
- 1 cup coarsely chopped tomatoes
- 1 cup crumbled gorgonzola or other creamy cheese
- ½ box jumbo pasta shells
- 1 jar tomato sauce - choose your favorite variety
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese or similar blend
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Mix the chicken pieces with the onion, garlic, kale or spinach, tomatoes, and gorgonzola. Press the mixture carefully into uncooked jumbo pasta shells and arrange in a single layer inside a 9-inch square baking dish coated with 1 cup of the tomato sauce. Add the remaining tomato sauce and the chicken broth to the pan once all of the shells are in the baking dish. Cover the dish with aluminum foil.
Bake the dish for 1 hour in the preheated oven. Remove the foil and top with the mozzarella cheese. Return to the oven - uncovered - and bake until the cheese is fully melted and bubbly, about 10-15 minutes. Allow the dish to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
- Yields: 4 servings
- Preparation Time: 90 minutes