Thursday, November 17, 2011

Turkey Pesto Stuffed Shells

So let’s pretend it is the day after Thanksgiving…..Are you wondering what to do with your 50 pounds of leftover turkey?  Of course there is sandwiches, tacos, soup, etc……but I have something different for you.  I have a great recipe for Turkey Pesto Stuffed Shells.  It takes just a bit of time to assemble, but it is a great freezable meal or great for a crowd.  You know, in case you still have a bunch of Thanksgiving guests that won’t leave;)

I love stuffed shells.  I actually love any kind of baked pasta.  I think it is all the cheese that goes in a baked pasta that makes me love it.  I also love making a big ‘ol pan of baked pasta and freezing it.  Then I can bust it out on a day that I know I will be too busy to cook.  Freezable meals are also a great thing to make for someone that has just had a baby, or maybe just got out of the hospital.  My bff is having a baby next week, so don’t spoil the surprise for her if you know her……because she is getting a pan of Turkey Pesto Stuffed Shells.

The first step for this recipe it to boil a box of big shells according to package directions.  Put a little bit of oil in the boiling water.  This will keep the shells from sticking to each other.  After you drain them, lay them out on a baking sheet so they can cool.

Now let’s make the sauce……

This is a béchamel sauce.  You have seen me make this before.  It sounds fancy, but it really is super easy to make.  I use butter, flour, milk, pesto, garlic, mozzarella cheese, dried basil and onion powder.  I also use salt and pepper which, once again, didn’t make the picture.

I use homemade pesto, but you can totally use store bought.  I like to make my own because I prefer spinach pesto over basil pesto.  I make it in huge batches and freeze it.  If you are using store bought basil pesto, you can omit the dried basil.

I start by melting the butter in a medium sized sauce pan.  I also have added some crushed garlic to the butter.

Once the butter has melted, I add a couple tablespoons of flour.  This gets whisked together to make sure there are no lumps…..beyond the garlic lumps.  The paste that this makes needs to cook for about a minute to get rid of the flour taste. 

This is a roux.  The roux is what will thicken our sauce.  We are using a light roux, meaning it never really changes color.  A light roux has more thickening power then a dark roux.

I use about two cups of milk to make this a sauce.  If you want to lighten it up a bit, use one cup of milk and one cup of chicken stock.  BTW-I use 1% milk, which is fine, but don’t use skim. 

This will thicken as it comes to a boil.  Make sure to stir it a lot so the bottom doesn’t scorch.  Once the sauce thickens, after about 5 or so minutes, add the spices, pesto and cheese.

Your sauce will be a pretty pale green.  It should be thick!  Keep this on low heat while you make your filling.

The filling for these shells is leftover turkey, ricotta cheese, diced tomatoes, more pesto, more dried basil and onion powder, and mozzarella cheese.  There is parmesan cheese in this picture because that will get sprinkled over the top.

Again, if you are using store bought basil pesto, omit the dried basil.

And oh yeah, I also drain the diced tomatoes to keep the filling from getting too loose.

All the ingredients get mixed together.  My bowl probably looks fuller than yours will.  I doubled the recipe to make two 13x9 pans.

Before we start stuffing the shells, put a little bit of the sauce in the bottom of the pan you will be cooking your shells in.  Use just enough to cover the bottom of a 13x9.

I used an ice cream scoop to stuff my shells, but you can use spoons.  I stuff as many shells as I can into the pan.  You will probably end up with extra shells.  This means you can pick out the pretty ones and toss the rest.  Some will get damaged when they boil.  Survival of the fittest;)

I poured the remaining sauce over the top of the shells.  It will sink down in all the nooks and crannies, which is fine.  I also topped the shells with more mozzarella and some parmesan cheese.  The more cheese, the better.

I covered the pan in foil, and baked this for 35 minutes.  Then, I removed the foil and bumped up the heat.  I cooked it for an additional 15 minutes at a higher heat to brown the top.

These shells come out gooey and delicious.  The pesto is great with the turkey.  I think this is a welcome change from your usual Thanksgiving turkey leftovers.  I am pretty sure your family will love it too.  Or your Thanksgiving interlopers that haven’t left yet;)  Perhaps if you give them a frozen pan of this, they will take the hint that it is time to go……


I hope you keep this recipe in mind when you are staring down 10 bags of leftover chopped up turkey!

Turkey Pesto Stuffed Shells

12 ounces Jumbo Shells, cooked and drained

Béchamel Sauce:

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon dried basil

½ teaspoon onion powder

½ cup pesto

1 cup mozzarella cheese


8 ounces ricotta cheese

14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained

½ cup pesto

½ teaspoon dried basil

½ teaspoon onion powder

1 cup mozzarella cheese

1&1/2 cups turkey, chopped


1 cup mozzarella cheese

½ cup parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To make béchamel:

In a medium sized sauce pan, melt butter with minced garlic.  Whisk in flour over medium high heat.  Cook flour and butter together for 1 minute.  Whisk in milk.  Simmer sauce over medium high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Sauce will thicken as it comes to a boil.

Once sauce thickens, stir in spices, pesto and cheese.  Keep sauce on low heat while you make filling.

To make filling:

In a large bowl, mix together ricotta, tomatoes, pesto, spices, mozzarella and turkey.  Stuff cooked shells with filling.  Fit as many shells as you can in a 13x9 baking dish that has béchamel sauce coating the bottom.

Once pan is filled, top with remaining sauce, and cheeses.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.  Turn heat up to 400 degrees and cook, uncovered, for an additional 15 to 20 minutes.  Top should be golden brown and bubbly.

Serves at least 6

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