Ground Turkey Stuffed Shells

5 from 1 vote

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Cheesy, satisfying, and special, this stuffed shells recipe is one of the best baked pasta dishes around.

Stuffed Shells topped with mozzarella cheese and basil.

Stuffed shells might just be the most substantially satisfying baked pasta dish around, with the exception of lasagna. But there is something about stuffed shells…they look and feel a little more special (and also adorable) than other baked pasta dishes, probably because some individual pasta stuffing is involved. And, if you can make lasagna, you can make stuffed shells!

I used ground turkey instead of ground beef or other red meat in this stuffed shells recipe. They definitely have all of the substance that we are all seeking in our baked stuffed pasta but with less fat than ground beef. However, three kinds of cheese (Parmesan, ricotta, and mozzarella) make them really satisfying. You can use fresh or packaged mozzarella here. I love fresh, but I also love the convenience of grated mozzarella, so it’s a toss-up!

I always love a cheesy red sauce baked pasta with a big tossed salad with vinaigrette dressing or Italian dressing. Also try a salad with Green Goddess dressing if you’re in the mood for something creamy.

Plate with Stuffed Shells and salad.

Stuffed Shells: Cheesy, satisfying, and special, this is one of the best baked pasta dishes around.

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Ingredients for Ground Turkey Stuffed Shells

The list looks long, but the ingredients are readily available and you may have a lot of them in your fridge or pantry already. Basically, the ingredients are very similar to my favorite turkey lasagna, but with all of the joyful fun of stuffed shells. And, I promise you it’s worth it!

  • Eggs – Add structure to the ricotta mixture.
  • Ricotta cheese – I love whole milk ricotta, but lower fat is just fine. And if you can find fresh, you’re in for a treat!
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Basil – I recommend fresh basil here, but you can sub in 1 1/2 tablespoons dried if you like.
  • Parsley – Here you need to go for fresh. You just do.
  • OreganoDried oregano is fine here.
  • Olive oil
  • Onion and garlic
  • Ground turkey – I like 85/15% which is richer and more flavorful than lean ground turkey.
  • Jumbo pasta shells – Get the big ones!
  • Tomato pasta sauce – You can absolutely use your favorite jarred sauce, but if you have the time to make your own tomato sauce, you should! (And then tell everyone the sauce is also homemade!)
  • Mozzarella cheese – You can use packaged mozzarella with no compunctions here — it melts fantastically, and this dish is so nicely old-school that shredded supermarket mozzarella feels very right. You can also use fresh mozzarella, though, for a slightly lighter and creamier cheesiness. Fresh mozzarella can be grated, or if it’s easier, you can slice it thinly and then chop it on a cutting board into tiny pieces, just the right size for sprinkling on top. 
Spoon grabbing a Stuffed Shell from a baking dish.

How to Make Stuffed Shells

  1. Make the stuffing base: In a large bowl, beat the eggs, then add the ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan, 1/4 cup basil, parsley, and oregano, season with salt and pepper, and stir to combine well. Set aside.
  2. Cook the turkey and veggies: Sauté the onions. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 more minute. Add the ground turkey and the red pepper flakes, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until the turkey is browned. Cool to room temperature.
  3. Finish the stuffing for the shells: Add the cooled turkey to the ricotta mixture.
  4. Cook the pasta and stuff: Use a tablespoon to stuff the cooked pasta shells with the ricotta mixture, dividing it evenly between the shells. It’s easiest to stuff the shells while holding them in your hand.
Woman spooning ricotta mixture into a pasta shell.
  1. Add stuffed shells to pan and top: Pour a bit of sauce into the pan. Line the stuffed shells up neatly in the pan, following the shape of the pan. Pour the rest of the spaghetti sauce evenly over the stuffed shells. Distribute the mozzarella and remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan over the top of the shells.
Adding stuffed shells to pan and topping with tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese.
  1. Bake and serve: Bake the shells for about 20 minutes, until everything is lovely and bubbling. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with extra slivered basil.
Baked Stuffed Shells in green baking pan topped with slivered basil.

Make Ahead and Freezing Instructions

This dish can be made ahead and refrigerated, covered, in the fridge for up to 2 days. The baked shells can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Reheat the shells in a 350 oven, covered, until hot throughout, about 20 minutes. Or reheat portions in the microwave.

If you want to freeze the casserole, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and then foil, and label it. Freeze for up to 4 months.

Make sure to take off the plastic before baking it! You can either defrost it in the fridge overnight and then bake as instructed, or if you want to bake it from frozen, remove the plastic, recover the casserole with foil, and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Then remove the foil and continue baking until hot throughout and the cheese is bubbly and the top is browned.

What to Serve With Stuffed Shells

Stuffed Shells and salad on a white plate.

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5 from 1 vote

Ground Turkey Stuffed Shells

Cheesy, satisfying, and special, this stuffed shells recipe is one of the best baked pasta dishes around.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 8 People
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Ingredients 

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese (about 2 cups)
  • ¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (divided)
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil (plus more for serving)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano (or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 pound ground turkey (preferably 85/15% dark meat)
  • 1 (12-ounce) box jumbo pasta shells
  • 4 cups tomato pasta sauce (homemade or store-bought)
  • 2 cups grated mozzarella (fresh or packaged)

Instructions 

  • Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  • Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add the ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan, 1/4 cup basil, parsley, and oregano, season with salt and pepper, and stir to combine well. Set aside.
  • Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for 5 minutes until tender and golden. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 more minute, until you can smell the garlic. Add the ground turkey and the red pepper flakes, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until the turkey is cooked, brown, and crumbly. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Add the cooled turkey to the ricotta mixture.
  • While the turkey cools, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the shells according to package directions (there should be a set of instructions for cooking them for a shorter time, if they will be baked later. If not, cook them for 4 minutes less than the full cooking time). Drain the shells and set aside.
  • Spoon a thin layer of the spaghetti sauce into the bottom of a shallow 3-quart baking dish (a 9×13-inch pan works well). Use a tablespoon to stuff the cooked shells with the ricotta mixture, dividing it evenly between the shells; it’s easiest to stuff the shells while holding them in your hand. Line them up neatly in the prepared pan, following the shape of the pan. Pour the rest of the spaghetti sauce evenly over the stuffed shells. Distribute the mozzarella and remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan over the top of the shells.
  • Bake the shells for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and turning a bit golden and everything is lovely and bubbling. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with extra slivered basil before serving.

Notes

  • You can use packaged or fresh mozzarella here. Fresh mozzarella can be grated, or if it’s easier, you can slice it thinly and then chop it on a cutting board into tiny pieces, just the right size for sprinkling on top. 
  • This dish can be made ahead and refrigerated, covered, in the fridge for up to 2 days. The baked shells can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Reheat the shells in a 350 over, covered, until hot throughout, about 20 minutes. Or reheat portions in the microwave.
  • If you want to freeze the casserole, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and then foil, and label it. Freeze for up to 4 months.
    • Make sure to remove the plastic before baking it! You can either defrost it in the fridge overnight and then bake as instructed, or if you want to bake it from frozen, remove the plastic, recover the casserole with foil, and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Then remove the foil and continue baking until hot throughout, the cheese is bubbly, and the top is browned.

Nutrition

Calories: 526kcal, Carbohydrates: 44g, Protein: 38g, Fat: 22g, Saturated Fat: 11g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g, Monounsaturated Fat: 8g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 130mg, Sodium: 1055mg, Potassium: 825mg, Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 8g, Vitamin A: 1320IU, Vitamin C: 13mg, Calcium: 408mg, Iron: 3mg
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About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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