Every home cook needs a stuffed shells recipe in their back pocket and these Chicken Stuffed Shells with Tomato Cream Sauce hit all the marks. Loaded with three types of cheese and leftover rotisserie chicken all nestled in a silky tomato cream sauce, this is the next incredible Italian dinner you’re going to want to make right away.

Growing up in an Italian-American family, I ate my fair share of lasagna, manicotti, and stuffed shells.

They were staple Italian dishes at birthday parties, christening receptions, and Super Bowl parties, where trays of them lined food tables alongside sliced-up 6-foot subs and bowls of macaroni salad (among other things, of course).

Manicotti and stuffed shells, especially, were special event dishes. They take a little longer to make than a pot of spaghetti, which is what you’d often find us eating on a Saturday or Sunday night along with my dad’s gravy and some sesame seed Italian bread with plenty of butter.

Because they take longer to make, I somehow thought for years that meant stuffed shells were more difficult to make as well. Yes, there’s a lot of stuffing going on but once you have a rhythm going, the shell-filling process goes pretty quickly.

So no, stuffed shells are not difficult to make. And what’s better is that the stuffing possibilities are almost endless! Like, also? Artichoke and sausage stuffed shells! And chicken alfredo stuffed shells? OMGosh yes please!!

Italian dinner recipes often highlight meals like spaghetti and meatballs and chicken parmesan. This Chicken Stuffed Shells with Tomato Cream Sauce recipe takes dinner in a different direction, whether it be for a date night in meal or for another way to use up leftover rotisserie chicken.

I made a form of these Chicken Stuffed Shells many, many years ago and decided recently to give it a much-needed revamp. It was a great recipe in 2007 and now these Chicken Stuffed Shells with Tomato Cream Sauce is a total Italian dinner winner!

Served with some garlic bread and a green salad, these stuffed shells are absolutely fabulous! It’s really a meal the whole family will love.

Ingredients

Here’s the basic grocery list for this chicken stuffed shells recipe. Be sure to keep scrolling down to the recipe for the full Ingredients list and full printable recipe!

PRO TIP: Be sure to toss a couple extra jumbo shells into the pot of water. You’ll need 18 shells for this recipe and it’s good to have extra when one or two of them inevitably tear.

  • Uncooked jumbo pasta shells, cooked according to package directions
  • Part skim ricotta cheese
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Dried herbs and spices: garlic powder and dried oregano
  • Fresh herbs: Fresh basil leaves and Italian parsley
  • Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Cooked chicken breast, like from a rotisserie chicken
  • Marinara sauce
  • Water, if needed (see Note in the recipe card)
  • Heavy cream
  • Whole milk or part skim mozzarella cheese, freshly grated

How to Make Chicken Stuffed Shells

Here are the basic steps to make these easy stuffed shells. Be sure to keep scrolling down to the recipe for the full Ingredients list and full printable recipe!

STEP 1: Cook the jumbo shells according to the package directions in a large pot, until al dente. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and line a large baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.

STEP 2: While the shells cook, mix the ricotta filling ingredients together in a large bowl. 

STEP 3: Pour the marinara sauce, some water, and the heavy cream into a food processor bowl fitted with the blade attachment. Process until smooth and then pour all of the sauce into the bottom of a casserole dish.

STEP 4: Drain the shells and line the cooked shells on the baking sheet. Fill each shell with the ricotta and chicken mixture. NOTE: There are detailed instructions for this step in the recipe card below. Please be sure to read through them.

STEP 5: Arrange the filled shells in the casserole dish, nestled into the sauce, starting around the edge of the dish and then squeezing the last few shells into the middle.

STEP 6: Cover loosely with foil, place the dish on the parchment-lined baking sheet – this will catch the drips! – and bake. Turn the heat up to 400 degrees F, sprinkle mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese over the top of the shells, and bake for 10 minutes.

Crank the heat 425 degrees F and continue cooking the shells until the cheese and sauce are bubbly and starting to brown in places.

STEP 7: Allow the shells to cool for 10 minutes before sprinkling the top with fresh basil and parsley and then serving. 

How to Reheat Stuffed Shells

To reheat stuffed shells, place the leftover shells in a shallow baking dish with some sauce on the bottom. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes at 250 degrees F. 

Then, remove the foil and continue heating for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the ricotta cheese filling is hot.

Can you Freeze Cooked Stuffed Shells?

Yes, you absolutely can! It’s one of the best ways to have a freezer meal ready to heat on a busy weeknight or for company on the weekend.

To freeze cooked stuffed shells, simply assemble the shells as directed in the Instructions of the recipe card below. 

You’ll want to freeze the shells in the sauce in a baking pan that you won’t need to use regularly. Disposable aluminum pans work great for this purpose. Wrap the pan tightly with aluminum foil or the cover, if one was included, and then wrap the covered pan tightly with aluminum foil.

How To Heat Frozen Stuffed Shells

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and place the frozen pan of stuffed shells in the oven for 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes. Smaller pans will heat on the lower end of the range. 

Start checking the inside of the shells to see if they are warm around the 1 hour mark.

More Italian Recipes You’ll Love

One of my favorite cuisines to cook is Italian food! No matter what I make, it always seems to be a crowd pleaser, since everyone else loves Italian food too!

For quick weeknight dinners, I’ll forever and always love my go-to One Pot Creamy Sausage Pasta, this baked Sun-dried Tomatoes Boursin Orzo dish, and my family’s 3rd generation Pasta e Fagioli (not in a soup form!). 

If you’re looking for more of a weekend meal to make instead of this stuffed shell recipe – maybe for a Sunday family dinner! – go for this classic Braciole that will feed a crowd or my very favorite Spinach Lasagna, which quickly become your favorite lasagna too!

Want to do a little Italian baking to go with these cheesy stuffed shells? You definitely need these Garlic Knots (the BEST EVER!), some Cheesy Garlic Parmesan Pull Apart Bread with a loaf of grocery store Italian bread, and some homemade Rosemary Asiago Focaccia

Chicken Stuffed Shells with Tomato Cream Sauce Recipe

Chicken Stuffed Shells with Tomato Cream Sauce Recipe

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Cooling Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

Chicken Stuffed Shells with Tomato Cream Sauce is the perfect Italian dinner recipe to make for weekend company, to give to parents of a new baby, or to have stored in the freezer for a quick meal when things get busy. Filled with leftover rotisserie chicken, two types of cheese, and nestled in a creamy tomato sauce, this stuffed shells recipe will be one you make again and again.

Ingredients

  • 18 uncooked jumbo pasta shells, cooked according to package directions
  • 15 oz part skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • ¼ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup loosely packed fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • ⅓ cup dry Italian bread crumbs
  • ¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 to 8 oz cooked chicken
  • About 20 oz marinara sauce
  • ¼ cup water, if needed (see Note)
  • 4 tbsp heavy cream
  • 4 oz whole milk or part skim mozzarella cheese, freshly grated
  • Extra chopped parsley and basil, for serving

Instructions

  1. While the shells cook, preheat the oven to 375° F. Line a large baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.
  2. Using a large bowl, mix the ricotta cheese, olive oil, garlic powder, oregano, basil, parsley, breadcrumbs, ½ cup Parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, and ½ teaspoon of black pepper together until well-combined. Stir in the chicken. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Pour the marinara sauce, water (see Note), and heavy cream into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade. Process for about 10 seconds, until smooth. Transfer all of the sauce to the bottom of an oval baking/casserole dish.
  4. When the shells are finished cooking, drain them well. Dump the shells onto the parchment-lined baking sheet and gently separate those that have stuck or nestled together. Make sure they are not touching each other.
  5. Using a soup spoon, scoop about 3 tablespoons of filling. Take a shell in one palm with the shell ends facing your pinky and thumb. Place the long side of the spoon inside the shell, along the long side of the shell. Slide the filling into the shell with your fingers. The shell should be filled to the top but not bursting out the sides. Place the shell back on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining shells and filling.
  6. Arrange the filled shells in a circular pattern around the outer edge of the dish with an end facing the center of the dish, nestling them into the sauce as you go. Squeeze the last few shells into the center space of the dish - there should only be 3 or 4 left at this point. Don’t throw the parchment paper away - you’ll use it for baking. At this point, you can cover and refrigerate the shells to bake later or bake them off right away.
  7. Cover the dish loosely with a piece of foil. Place the casserole dish on a parchment-lined baking sheet (it can be the same one you used for prepping the shells).
  8. Bake for 45 minutes. Turn up the oven to 400° F. Remove the foil and sprinkle the mozzarella and remaining Parmesan cheese over the top of the shells. Continue baking for another 10 minutes. Turn the oven up to 425° F and bake for another 7 to 8 minutes, until the top of the cheese has just started to brown in places and the edges of the shells have just started to become crispy.
  9. Remove the dish (still on the baking sheet) from the oven. Allow the shells to cool and set on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes before sprinkling with extra basil and parsley and serving.

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