Giant Pasta Shells: Turkey, Garlic and Sundried Tomato Pesto

Turkey, Garlic and Sundried Tomato Pesto: A Canadian Foodie Original Recipe

My mom was into cannelloni this particular year. I think it was about 1998. Not so long ago, but long enough. I loved her veal cannelloni. I loved her creamy shiitake mushroom sauce. And, I got into stuffing pastas that year. Turkey was big. Still is. Leaner. Healthier. I tried a lot of substituting old favourites with ground turkey. It worked well. On this particular day, and I still remember it well, I was expecting Vanja for dinner. We were just dating. I loved cooking for him and he appreciated it so much. I decided to do some stuffed pasta shells this night.

I boiled the pasta shells until pliable, but definitely al dente. I then started to put together a flavourful stuffing with what I had on hand. I sliced and diced a medium onion and sautéed it. I did the same with a few cloves of minced garlic, then added the turkey to brown, melted in a block of cream cheese and threw in some homemade sun-dried tomato pesto. YUMMERS. I knew I had a winning dish! Yes, it was rich. But, so full of flavour!

After I stuffed each shell, I peeled a head of garlic, slivering the cloves, and inserted a sliver or two into each shell. In the baking dish they went, topped with generous slices of cheese, poured in a generous bottom covering of heavy cream, and baked it until the cheese on the top bubbled. I think this dish marked a change in our relationship. Yup. It was the giant pasta shells that won over my man.

When I make it now, I stuff and freeze the shells in small freezer bags so I can make a large casserole, or an individual portion. I make a box (or usually two) of the giant pasta shells at once. I love making this dish as I have never met anyone who didn’t enjoy it. I love serving just one, plated, as an appetizer. One can dispell a substantial edge off of hunger before a meal. And one definitely leaves you longing for more.

And every single time I make it, I remember the first time. It was Valley Tower downtown where we lived at the time, overlooking the river valley. The city lights were gorgeous mirrored in the river at night. The autumn air was cool and crisp outside on the balcony, but everything was right with the world. Everything was perfect. The sky was clear. The stars were out. And the meal. Unforgettable.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Giant Pasta Shells: Turkey, Garlic and Sundried Tomato Pesto
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
This is A Canadian Food Original Recipe that is excellent as a main or as a one bite wonder.
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Canadian
Serves: 45
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 6 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced (or one large bulb)
  • one kilo ground turkey
  • 2 tablespoons of dried basil
  • 8 ounces of cream cheese
  • 8 ounces of sun-dried tomato pesto (homemade recipe follows)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 large box of giant pasta shells
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled and slivered
  • heavy cream
  • mozzarella, Gouda, or gruyere cheese
  • 1 large box of giant, pasta shells for stuffing (I prefer the durum wheat ones)
  1. Sauté onion over medium heat until translucent (about 3-5 minutes)
  2. Add garlic; sauté for 30 seconds
  3. Add meat to brown (5-8 minutes), stirring often
  4. Add basil and pesto, stir to combine
  5. Add cheese, stir to melt into mixture
  6. While mixture cools, boil shells until al dente
  7. Drain and drizzle with olive oil to keep separate; set aside
  8. Let mixture cool until manageable; stuff pasta shells generously
  9. Freeze individually on cookie sheets; wrap well and freeze until needed
  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF
  2. Place stuffed shells in baking dish; cover bottom with heavy cream (just a skim to cover bottom of casserole dish)
  3. Slice cheese of choice and cover shells; tent foil over dish and bake 20-30 minutes until hot and bubbly
  4. Serve with a tossed green salad
  1. Each box of shells has about 30 good shells in it once they are cooked and it takes about 20 minutes to cook them; discard the broken bits
  2. Each recipe will make about 45 shells, so I usually double the recipe and use 3 boxes of shells
Six shells is ample for an individual serving. If making in a large casserole, count 5 per person. When serving as a "one bite wonder" at a huge potluck party, or as an appetizer at the beginning of a meal, I add thin slivers of fresh garlic into the center of the meat stuffed into each large shell to increase the garlic pucker power punch; it is extraordinary for a small portion.


5.0 from 1 reviews
Sundried Tomato Pesto
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Yeild: 9 Cups
Recipe type: Sauce
Cuisine: Canadian
  • 600 g Parmesan cheese
  • 100g fresh basil
  • 360 g sun-dried tomatoes
  • 300g of pine nuts, toasted
  • 18 cloves of garlic, cleaned
  • 600ml extra virgin olive oil
  • freshly grated pepper and salt, to taste
  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and mill until desired consistency; season to taste



  1. says

    This looks wonderfully delicious, Valerie. My perfect idea of pure comfort food. I can’t see how this dish wouldn’t have won your man over. Heck, will you marry ME? Lol. Anything with baked ooey gooey hot bubbly cheese has me won over. I love how one dish can trigger such sentimental memories with vivid details attached – the true power of food :-D. Thank you for sharing a little piece of your best memories with us. I enjoyed hearing about it.
    Have a lovely weekend, sweetie!

  2. says

    Hubby and I dated at least a month before I gave up the fact that I could actually cook as great as my wonderful personality. LOL. Our relationship got cemented after that first supper. “A way to a man’s heart”…etc.

    Valerie, this meal would have had him ask my hand in marriage if I had made such a scrumptious presentation! The ingredients are perfection. That photo collage is so incredibly welcoming…it almost looks like a dessert platter ;o)

    Have a great weekend ahead.
    Flavourful wishes,

  3. says


    This is the perfect meal to win a man over; I mean it is scrumptious, looks amazing, has melted cheese on top, spells comfort all over it.
    I am gonna make it for my kids! It is fantastic!

  4. suzanne dennis says


    sitting here in the early morning hours and my mouth is watering! looks scrumptious.

    thanks for the food porn

    su :)

  5. says

    Who wouldn’t fall for this amazing dish and the lovely cook who made it? I wish I could reach in with a fork and grab a bite. The first dish I ever made for my husband, when we were dating, was Chicken Divan. Not that my mother made anything similar but I had seen the recipe in a magazine and it sounded so “gourmet” at the time. Made with canned soup no less – LOL!

    • Valerie says

      I remember chicken divan. We have a Canadian Cookbook Team called The Best of Bridge cooks and they have written best selling cook books since the 80’s. Theirs was the first I tried. It was heavenly – and every bit as rich as this dish I make. I will have to dig it out again! And, I laugh at your canned soup reference. Those were the days, weren’t they? When the greater the variety of Campbell’s soup one had at home in the pantry, the greater their esteemed wealth in the eyes of their playmates. Ah! Modern culture!

  6. says

    I love these type of meals that you can make ahead and freeze. Sundays I make at least 3 dishes if I can since I am working all the rest of the week. I am so glad that it is still light when I arrive home from work so I can take photos of my creations!!!!

  7. says

    This looks so good I can definitely see why it’s a family favourite- I can’t wait to get my hands on some giant pasta shells to try this out :) I actually read this last night and then dreamt about it….haha 😀

  8. says

    I could use something like this now, Valarie. In the midst of all this confusion/tragedy I’m currently facing, I find solace in these pictures”¦and in your words. Thank you for sharing with me..and thank you for supporting me through the good and the bad. May your week be full of laughter and love. Hold onto those you love.

  9. says

    Hey Valerie, I have a lot of foods that trigger wonderful memories of times past that I must admit I do so long for…:-) I can understand how the deliciousness of such a dish as garlicky turkey stuffed shells with homemade pesto would cause the mind to settle on the moment and place it was first enjoyed. Yum!

  10. says

    I also went through cannelloni phase a few years ago. I was stuffing them with a variety of fillings. Have never made stuffed shells and these are keepers. Will try them when I get back to my kitchen. they look like my kind of food.

  11. says

    Great memories surround this fabulous recipe, Valerie! Which must be lovely to think about each time you make it. Gooey cheese and a yummy stuffing! You can’t beat it!

  12. says

    OMG, this looks absolutely to die for. I wonder if this would be good with chicken, as Mr P will not eat turkey (he says its a mutant bird–although i know he wouldn’t know it if it’s all ground up and stuff). I would love to tuck in to this dish, it looks spectacular.
    *kisses* HH

  13. says

    This looks just too darn delicious, Valerie. I think my brain has shut down just looking at the ingredient list as I am currently in the process of taking deep swallows….My perfect idea of pure comfort food…..baked hot bubbly cheese and meat with sundried tomato pesto??? How clever is that!!!

    You know I have never been nifty with those pasta shells so you dahling are a life saver!

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  14. says

    My mother made stuffed shells a lot when I was young. Hers were filled with ricotta and various cheeses and in a tomato sauce. I really enjoyed those a lot.

    I think that this dish sounds really good. I’m esp intrigued by the sundried tomato pesto, which I am certain that I would adore and could use in multiple dishes almost with abandon. I could see replacing the turkey with veggie protein to make a vegetarian dish that would be quite good. You’ve inspired me. Again. Thanks and have a super weekend.

  15. says

    I’ve always thought of making stuffed shells – never have. It looks lovely but I absolutely have to make your eggplant parmigiana first….seeing as I’ve fallen in love with aubergines recently. Have a great weekend, hope all your plans for the slow food fest are going well. Take care and thanks for always making me smile!

  16. habanerogal says

    Lovely story behind this recipe kind of plants an idea in my brain about a certain reunion dinner after not seeing my hunny for 4 months

  17. says

    Valerie, I can see how these giant stuffed pasta shells could win over anyone :) Stuffing that little sliver of garlic in each shell is a well thought out plan. I love garlic, so the more the merrier. I like that you use leaner turkey too paired with the homemade sundried tomato pesto. That pesto would store well and can be used as a condiment for so many meals. xo

  18. says

    Can’t go wrong with something as good as this…wow! Loved the way you wrote this post Valerie, so full of magic! This dish is a winner, the cream, filled shells, garlic stuffed in and the topping. I’m HUNGRY!!

  19. says

    Wow this is one killer pasta dish and I love it! Can I come over for dinner? I love love the flavors! So homey and comforting and decadent all at once. And I love when food stirs up memories…

  20. says

    Valerie, I got to your site this morning and the first thing out of my mouth was: Oh My Word. :-) WOW!!! This looks so fantastic and cheesy and savory and rich and purely wonderful. :-) No wonder it’s a family favorite!

  21. says

    Val..I’m jumping for joy here! I love stuffed shells, but not the super tomato/marinara sauced up kind. Yours is exactly how I love them, and I’m definitely making them soon – they look so good that my mouth is really watering this very minute! I’m printing it out now :) I’m making it exactly how you did..thank you!

  22. says

    Such a original and yummy idea.No one can go wrong with cheese and pasta.I love the how your love life eveolved with you cooking out dishes for your would be hubby and he appreciating it.Such a cute story. This looks mouthwatering.I Love any thing cream cheese.Thanks for sharing this my friend, I m gonna try this out really soon.
    P.S. I hope your preparations for daughter’s wedding a going fine.Learnt it from twitter.Congratulations and take care :)

  23. says

    A touching post Valerie, I am sure Vanja knew after one bite he was in for a life filled with remarkable food, adding the slivers in each shell is a great idea, I cannot imagine having these tucked away in the freezer for too long, yummy

    have a great week!

  24. says

    very interesting..awesome recipe..
    chanced upon your space while blog hopping..
    lovely space you have with interesting recipe collections..
    happy to follow u..:)
    do stop by mine sometime..
    Tasty Appetite

  25. says

    Oh My God, these look incredible. Absolutely mouth watering. I’m not usually one to use ground turkey in my cooking, it’s not something that is readily available here in the UK, but this has made made me want to find it.

  26. Jeanie Jarvis says

    LOL. Can’t go wrong with something as good as this…wow! I really love this idea of using the sundried tomato pesto.

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      Cannot wait to hear about you making it and what you think. This is definitely a family favourite. HUGE!

  27. V says

    This is an absolute favourite of mine. Particularly as I can just take a ziplock bag of frozen shells out of the deep freeze, top them with cheese, add a little milk or cream to the bottom, tent the dish with foil and in 30 minutes I have a spectacular homemade meal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Rate this recipe: