Sunday, September 15, 2013

Cheese, Cheese & More Cheese

It's no secret that I love cheese.  It's one of the New Four Food Groups, so it's necessary for me to live.  I'm that person that people say to me, "would you like some soup with that cheese."  I hear that a lot at work.  I just can't help it.  Melty, gooey, cheesy goodness is something I crave. And I'm not stingy with it either.  Our dogs love cheese too.  In fact, that's the only way we can get our 1-year-old Boxer, Cooper, to come in the house.  He loves to be outside and doesn't want to come in.  "Who wants cheese" is the only way to get him in.  Our other dog, Bentley, does come in when asked, but he gets the cheese too right alongside Cooper.  And have you ever been around a Boxer puppy?  Although he weighs probably 70 pounds, he thinks he's a lap dog.  He is a very entertaining dog and he loves to put on a show.  He prances and hops around in the back yard like a kangaroo.  He also watches TV and frequently jumps up on the armoire the TV is in and tries to bite the TV screen.

So enough about dogs.  This is about pasta.  Stuffed shells, to be exact. And four different kinds of cheese.  I know, that's a lot.  But I just can't help myself.  The filling is chicken, spinach, and ricotta cheese.  And the sauce, my oh my, the sauce.  Pepper Jack and Monterrey Jack and cream cheese make a delicious, creamy sauce to pour over these tasty little shells. I think you're going to love these.

Who wants cheese?

2 C cooked, shredded chicken
One 10-ounce bag fresh spinach
One 15-ounce container ricotta cheese
1 egg
A 12-ounce box large pasta shells
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T butter (for the spinach)
Olive oil
2 T flour
2 C chicken stock
2 T butter (for the sauce)
1 1/2 C shredded cheese (any flavors...I used Pepper Jack & Monterrey Jack)
One 8-ounce package cream cheese, cubed
Paprika, for garnish

Cook the pasta according to directions.

To make the sauce, melt the 2 T butter in a pot on medium heat.  Whisk in the flour to combine.  Add in the chicken stock.  Cook and whisk until thickened and bubbly.  Whisk in the cream cheese and keep whisking until it's melted and smooth.  Add in the shredded cheese, a handful at a time, and continue whisking.  Keep adding the cheese and whisking until it's all incorporated and smooth.  Set aside.

Melt the 2 T butter in a skillet and drizzle in some olive oil.  Cook the onion at medium high heat until tender.  Add in the spinach and garlic and season with salt and pepper.  Cook and stir until the spinach is completely wilted.  Remove from heat.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a bowl, combine the chicken, ricotta, spinach mixture, and the egg and season with salt and pepper, to taste. It's easiest to do by hand.  Put some of the filling into each shell (I had a few shells left over).  Place the shells in a casserole pan.  Pour the cheese sauce over the top.  Bake for about 20 minutes or until the filling is cooked through.  Garnish with a sprinkling of paprika, if desired.

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