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Breaking Out of the Dinner Rut: Sundried Tomato Pesto Chicken Stuffed Manicotti


 Guest Post from The Coupon Project

 


It can be so easy to grab for the same ingredients to make the same recipes over and over, can't it? That's why I love hunting for interesting foods at Grocery Outlet. They can help keep me from getting in those dinner ruts! Last month, you might recall how I discovered these pasilla peppers at my local Grocery Outlet store and used them to put a spin on traditional stuffed peppers. This month, I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful new Maple Valley store in Washington and did I ever find some delicious treats!


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They had beautiful organic pasta for just $1.50. I rarely venture beyond plain old spaghetti (and maybe penne when I'm in a mood!), largely due to the cost. Sure, it would be fun to try some new pasta - but who wants to spend $4 or $5 a bag? Not this gal! But $1.50? Now I'm game to change things up at the dinner table a bit! I decided to poke around and see what else I could find to put together a fun new pasta creation.

 

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Check out these beautiful pesto varieties: garlic galore; basil, garlic & sundried tomatoes; and bail & garlic. I decided to pick up the basil, garlic & dried tomatoes. After that, I decided to see what I could find in the cheese section to complete my meal.

 

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If you like cheese of any kind, you really need to make Grocery Outlet your stop. Check out these tubs of shredded Asiago, Romano and Parmesan cheese - all for just $1.99 each. I've seen similar tubs for $4 or more at other stores! It's all good quality stuff, too.

Taking my Grocery Outlet ingredients, I decided to do a spin on this beautiful Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells recipe I discovered a couple weeks ago. Here's what I came up with:

Ingredients: 1 package manicotti
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded (optional: plus more for garnish)
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast cubed and cooked
1 package cream cheese (I opted for fat free)
1/2 cup sundried tomato pesto (OR other pesto of your choosing)
Fresh ground pepper & salt, to taste
2 tsp minced garlic
1-tsp fresh chopped Italian parsley (optional: plus more for garnish)
One batch Bechamel Sauce


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Start by making your filling. Place the cream cheese in a bottom of a mixing bowl and add the garlic.

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Next: the pesto! I was really excited to give this a whirl. You can mix it to your taste, and I wanted a really pesto-y taste, so I ended up adding about 1/2 of this container.

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Add the cooked, cubed chicken. Make sure the pieces are not too large, because you are going to be stuffing your pasta. If you would prefer, you could omit the chicken for a vegetarian take on this recipe. OR, you could swap Italian sausage for the chicken for a different flavor combination.

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Mix in 1/4 cup Parmesan, freshly ground pepper, salt, and a good measure of fresh chopped parsley. If you wish, you could add some other Grocery Outlet cheeses into the mix! I think a little mozzarella would be rather tasty.

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Mix it all together. This might not look pretty, but trust me - take one whiff and you'll be wanting to just spoon it right out of the bowl like this! Heavenly!

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At this point, I set aside my filling mix to chill while I worked on cooking my pasta and prepping the Bechamel Sauce. Here's one more look at the beautiful organic pasta I ended up with:

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I cooked the entire package until al dente in salted water. While the pasta cooked, I made the sauce. Now, I'd never made a Bechamel sauce, but I figured - why not? The whole idea is to get out of a rut, try something new!

To make the sauce, I followed this recipe at Epicurious. Turns out, I had everything I needed in my fridge already and it took mere minutes. Easy peasy!

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You can get the full details at Epicurious, but it basically involves melting butter, adding a little flour and watching it bubble, adding hot milk, waiting for it to thicken and seasoning with salt and pepper. Really, really easy.

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At this point, you should have the filling, the pasta, and the sauce done. It's time to assemble! I started by adding a small portion of Bechamel to the bottom of a baking pan, to prevent sticking. My manicotti was a "mini" version, so I found roughly 2 tablespoons of the filling did the trick. I worked to get two pieces of chicken into every noodle.

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Here are all my manicotti noodles nearly ready for the oven!

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I topped with the Bechamel, making sure to cover each noodle evenly and topped with a little more Parmesan for good measure. Then I popped this dish into a 350° oven for about 20 minutes.

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The finished product! Yes, this dinner took a little more time, but I promise, it's worth the effort! Delicious!

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Serve with plenty of fresh green salad and maybe a loaf of crusty Italian bread or garlic breadsticks. This recipe should serve 4-6, depending on appetites.

If you've been in a dinner rut, can I recommend paying a stop to your local Grocery Outlet? I guarantee you'll find some new ingredients to jazz up your meal plan this week without breaking the bank. Make sure to come back next month and see what new creation I've come up with. If you missed it, check out my Stuffed Pasilla Peppers recipe from last month, too.

With thanks to What's Cookin, Chicago? and Epicurious for today's recipe inspiration.

Angela Russell blogs at The Coupon Project, a site that encourages families to live well for less. She lives in Tacoma, Washington with her firefighter husband and two small kids. In her spare time, she likes to read, garden, and has recently taken up canning.

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