I have been joking throughout the past several weeks that the baby I am growing must be Italian (though we have no Italian heritage), because I have been craving Italian foods more than anything else. Pasta in any form – plain old spaghetti, layered into lasagna, or stuffed in this case – I want it all. This dinner was so incredibly good. The recipe makes a ton of food, and I would normally recommend halving it (as it would still feed you for about three nights), but I froze half for my brother who is in college and could use some good food every now and then. Of course, I loved this so much that for a split second I considered eating his frozen portion as well, but I was a good girl in the end.

There are many versions of this recipe floating around food blogs and message boards. I chose this one because of the large quantity and the use of the food processor, making the whole thing much faster. This has a lot of great flavor, and is delicious as leftovers.

Garlic and Chicken Stuffed Shells
1 box (or more) uncooked jumbo pasta shells (about 50-55)
6 cloves garlic
2 chicken breasts, cooked and coarsely shredded
30 oz. part skim ricotta cheese
1/3 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1 ½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
1 ½ tsp. dried parsley (1 tbsp. fresh, chopped)
6 large basil leaves, torn
1/3 cup half and half
approx. 28 oz. pasta sauce
¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375°. Cook pasta shells according to package directions and drain. Separate onto a cutting board or cookie sheet to prevent from sticking together. Add ingredients garlic through half and half to a food processor and process until just combined. Add more salt and pepper if necessary, to taste.

Spoon enough sauce into baking dish(es) to cover the bottom. Fill the cooked shells with the ricotta mixture and place open side up in a prepared baking dish. Spoon as much of the remaining sauce over shells as desired. Bake covered with foil for 15-20 minutes, remove foil and continue baking for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

If freezing extra shells, to cook from the freezer, thaw in refrigerator overnight and bake as directed above.

Source: adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride, originally from Allrecipes

I decided to make homemade garlic bread to go along with this meal, and this was a great opportunity to try out this recipe I have been wanting to attempt for a long time. My swirl did not turn out as pretty as Amber’s and the dough was slightly tricky to work with, but the end result was absolutely delicious. Ben is already begging me to make this again. The loaf didn’t last long in our house :) Next time I may add a bit less flour or a little bit more liquid, as the dough really didn’t come together easily and required a lot of hand-kneading despite my mixer’s best efforts. It was definitely worth the work.

Garlic Herb Swirl Bread
3 ¼ cups bread flour, divided
1 tbsp. sugar
1 pkg. active dry or quick-rising yeast
½ tsp. salt
1 cup very warm water (115-125°)
2 tbsp. butter or margarine, softened or melted

For the filling:
4 tbsp. butter, softened
5-6 cloves roasted garlic
1 tsp. dried parsley
½ tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. dried basil
¼ cup Parmesan cheese

In a large bowl or in the bowl of a heavy duty mixer combine 2 cups bread flour, sugar, yeast and salt. Add in water and butter/margarine and mix by hand or on low speed for 1 minute. Add in remaining flour ¼ cup at a time until the dough is moist but not sticky.

Knead the dough for about 10 minutes by hand or with the dough hook on low to medium speed, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and turn it over to coat with oil. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 40-45 minutes.

Grease a 9×5” loaf pan. Punch down the dough on a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a large rectangle no more than 9” wide. Combine butter, garlic, parsely, oregano, basil and Parmesan cheese in a small bowl and mix until well combined. Spread the butter mixture over the surface of the dough rectangle. Tightly roll up the dough into a cylinder shape, pinching and tucking ends to form a tight seal. Place seam side down in prepared loaf pan. Oil the surface of the loaf and cover loosely with a clean cloth. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 20-45 minutes. Sprinkle the top of the loaf with Parmesan cheese if desired.

Preheat the oven to 450°. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350° and bake for about 30 minutes more. To prevent over-browning, cover with foil toward the end of baking if necessary. Bake until crust is golden brown and loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Transfer from pan to a cooling rack and let cool completely before slicing.

Source: adapted from Amber’s Delectable Delights