Turkey Stuffed Shells with Easy Fresh Marinara Sauce is a delicious and healthier twist on the classic Italian dish. Using lean ground turkey breast instead of higher-fat ground beef or pork, the overall fat content of the dish is reduced while still retaining the flavors and textures that make stuffed shells so satisfying.
Why You Want to Make this Recipe
- This recipe for Turkey Stuffed Shells with Easy Fresh Marinara Sauce is quick and easy to prepare.
- It contains little to no dairy - only a bit of Parmesan Cheese.
- It incorporates diced carrot for added texture and sweetness without adding sugar.
- It's low-cal and low-fat, without skimping on flavor.
- It freezes beautifully.
This recipe for Turkey Stuffed Shells with Fresh Marinara Sauce was "inspired" by Cooking Light Magazine.
A little backstory... When the company my husband worked for moved its corporate offices from Los Angeles CA to Tulsa OK...we had to make some decisions about our life. We had recently suffered through both the Northridge Earthquake and the aftermath of the South Central Los Angeles riots when a jury found LAPD not guilty of beating Rodney King.
Seeing men with shotguns on the roofs of buildings in your neighborhood when you drive home from work can be a little scary.
It was not a good time to be living in Los Angeles.
Tulsa looked great.
I had never been an "at home mom".
So I started working on my one of my greatest loves. Cooking.
Cooking from Bon Appetit. Cooking from Saveur. Cooking from Food and Wine, Gourmet. Yes, cooking big, large, high-fat dinners with lots of cream, butter, sauces...Yes, I cooked myself and my husband from our Los Angeles weights to our Tulsa weights.
LA + 30.
It was not pretty.
So I turned to Cooking Light to set us straight. And help us on our path back.
I find many "light" recipes to be bland. So I've learned to modify recipes to add a bit more flavor, but not fat, or added calories.
The result? Both my husband and I got back to our LA weights -10.
In about 3 months time.
Turkey Stuffed Shells with Easy Fresh Marinara Sauce is one of those recipes I tweaked and it remains a family favorite.
Video for Shells with Fresh Marinara
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Lean ground turkey meat - Not to exceed 7% fat. If you use a higher fat content the fat and calorie numbers naturally will be more than stated in the Nutritional Calculations.
- Onion - a yellow onion is best.
- Carrot - A large carrot color of your choice
- All Purpose Flour - Mixed with dried oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper.
- Dry Red Wine - The alcohol burns off so it's safe to use. Do not use "cooking wine". If you don't normally have wine in the house, use some beef or vegetable broth in its place.
- Grated Parmesan Cheese - DO NOT USE the green can. Get some real cheese. Please!
- Basic Marinara Sauce - Or your favorite jarred sauce.
- Jumbo Pasta Shells
Top Tips for Cooking Turkey Shells
How to Best Cook Large Pasta Shells
Most recipes for cooking pasta tell you to cook them in "rapidly boiling water". Almost all pasta will cook in almost any boiling water and doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot when cooked at a "slower" boil than a rapid boil.
This is especially true when cooking large shells. Large shells have a tendency to break, and it's hard to stuff a broken shell. I used to boil 18 shells hoping for 12 good ones, but now, I just turned down the degree of boil, to barely a simmer, and find that all my shells, or at least most all of my shells, remain intact.
Since they will cook more in the sauce, cook them for 3 minutes less than the package directions.
So boil your large shells slowly, at almost a simmer, and stir carefully to keep them from sticking or breaking.
Fresh Marinara Sauce
This recipe of course is called "with fresh marinara sauce" which is easy to make and keep in the freezer at the ready. If you don't have any fresh sauce in the freezer, use your favorite jarred sauce in its place.
Safe Handling for Diced Carrot
The carrot adds a nice texture and sweetness to the dish, as well as some vitamins. Being a hard, round vegetable can make it challenging to dice. The best way to dice a carrot is to first cut it into manageable pieces, about 2 inches each lengthwise. Then, carefully cut one side flat, turn the carrot to the flat side, slice and then dice each piece. Your pieces do not have to be exactly the same size but should be close to the same size.
Mis en Place
- Mis en Place simply means to have all of your ingredients ready before you start to cook. So chop the onion and carrot and put them together.
- Mix the flour with the oregano, salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes.
- Measure out your wine (or beef broth).
- Measure out your parmesan cheese.
- Cook and set aside the jumbo pasta shells.
- Have your marinara sauce ready whether it's homemade or your favorite jarred sauce.
For ease of assembly, you want the shells and turkey mixture to be at room temperature prior to stuffing the shells. I generally let them all sit for about 30 minutes. But if you have asbestos hands, feel free to stuff them hot.
Yes. Ground beef would work, however, note the nutritional information would not be correct.
I have made these shells with added ricotta cheese (about ½ cup) and topped with some shredded mozzarella, which makes them more like lasagna in a shell. It's good but not the same low-fat dish as Turkey Stuffed Shells.
Both manicotti and jumbo shells are designed to be stuffed. The difference is in their shape; Manicotti is long tubes, while shells are shaped like conch shells. I find Manicotti to be more difficult to stuff without tearing the shell.
Turkey Stuffed Shells with Easy Fresh Marinara Sauce freeze beautifully. I make individual servings of 2 to 3 shells per container and freeze them for an easy lunch or dinner. The shells will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week and can be frozen for 6 months or so without any freeze damage or loss of flavor.
You can easily reheat the shells in the microwave. I prefer to heat them at 50% power to keep the shells from drying out. They can also be reheated in the oven. Place the frozen shells into an oven-safe dish, cover with foil, and put into a 350ºF (177ºC) for about 45 minutes.
More Low-Fat Yet Fabulous Dishes
When pairing wine with Turkey Stuffed Shells with Fresh Marinara Sauce, you'll want to consider the flavors of the dish and the overall dining experience. Since this dish is a family-friendly, comforting meal with marinara sauce and lean ground turkey, you'll want a wine that complements the flavors without overpowering them. A medium-bodied red wine or a light-bodied red with good acidity would be a great choice. Here are two options:
- Chianti: Chianti is a classic Italian red wine from the Tuscany region. It's typically made from Sangiovese grapes and often has bright red fruit flavors, moderate tannins, and refreshing acidity. Chianti's fruity and slightly earthy notes can pair nicely with the tomato-based marinara sauce and complement the lean turkey. Its acidity can also help cut through the richness of the dish.
- Pinot Noir: A lighter-bodied red like Pinot Noir can be an excellent match for the Turkey Stuffed Shells. Pinot Noir often exhibits red fruit flavors like cherry and raspberry, along with subtle earthy and herbal notes. Its lightness and delicate nature won't overwhelm the dish, allowing the flavors of the turkey and marinara sauce to shine. Additionally, Pinot Noir's moderate acidity can cleanse the palate between bites, making each mouthful of stuffed shells taste just as delicious as the first.
Ultimately, wine pairing is a matter of personal preference, so feel free to choose a wine that you enjoy and find complements the meal to your liking. If you prefer white wines, a crisp and acidic white like a non-grassy Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio can also be a refreshing option.
Turkey Stuffed Shells with Fresh Marinara Sauce
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound lean ground turkey breast not to exceed 7% fat
- 1 medium onion chopped (about ¾ cup)
- 1 large carrot peeled and finely chopped (about ½ cup)
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano or more to taste
- ½ teaspoon Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes or to taste
- ½ cup dry red wine or beef or vegetable broth
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese divided
- 12 jumbo pasta shells cooked 3 minutes less than package directions, drained and cooled
- 3 cups Basic Marinara Sauce or 1 (28-ounce) jar of your favorite marinara sauce
- Additional grated Parmesan cheese for passing
- Heat oven to 350°F.
- Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet or saute pan over medium-low heat. Add the turkey and sauté, using a spoon to break it into small pieces. Cook until the turkey loses its pink color. Add the onion and carrot. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 5 - 7 minutes.
- Combine the flour, oregano, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the turkey mixture and stir to incorporate it well.Stir in the wine; cook until thickened. Simmer over low heat for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add ½ of the Parmesan cheese. Stir until well blended. Allow the mixture to cool.
- Pour 1 cup of the marinara sauce into the bottom of an 8 x 8 baking dish, or other oven-safe baking dish that will hold the shells snugly, spreading it evenly. When the mixture is cool enough to handle, stuff each shell with approximately 2 heaping tablespoons of the turkey Arrange the shells over the sauce; spoon the remaining sauce over the top. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, uncover, and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake 5 minutes longer or until hot.