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 sautÃ©ed 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.
Giant Pasta Shells with Ground Turkey and Sun-dried Tomato Pesto Recipe
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced, then diced (thinner the better)
- 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
- 6 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced (or one one bulb)
- one kilo of ground turkey
- 1 -2 tablespoons of dried basil
- 8 ounces of cream cheese
- 8 ounces of sun-dried tomato pesto (I used homemade)
- 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
- Boil shells until al dente; set aside
- Sautéonionover medium heat until transluscent (about 3-5 minutes)
- Add garlic and sautéfor 30 seconds; add meat to brown (5-8 minutes), stirring often
- Add cheese and basil, stir to melt into the meat mixture
- Add pesto, stir to combine
- Let mixture cool until manageable; stuff pasta shells generously, inserting a sliver or two of fresh garlic into each one
- Freeze individually on cookie sheets, and then wrap well and freeze until needed, or
- Preheat oven to 350ÂºF
- Place stuffed shells in baking dish, cover the bottom of the dish with heavy cream (about 1/4 inch high, or less, depending upon how many shells being cooked)
- Slice cheese of choice, and cover shells; tent foil over dish and bake 20-30 minutes until hot and bubbly
- Serve with a tossed green salad
Sundried Tomato Pesto Recipe
(makes 9 cups)
- 600 g Parmesan cheese
- 100g fresh basil
- 360 g sun-dried tomatoes
- 300g of pine nuts, toasted
- 18 cloves of garlic, cleaned
- 600mlÂ extra virgin olive oil
- freshly grated pepper and salt, to taste
- Place all ingredients in a food processor and mill until desired consistency; season to taste