Cheesy Turkey Manicotti
Lately I’ve had quite a thing for meals I can portion out and freeze in little individual servings. This Turkey Manicotti is exactly that. I thought it was just as delicious defrosted and carried to work in a little plastic container as it was when I first made it. In fact, I thought maybe it was even better. Maybe the flavors had more time to develop and become one, though I’m not entirely sure that can actually happen in a freezer. Either way, this is an excellent meal to make on a weekend and freeze for those evenings when you just don’t want to cook or those mornings when you can’t find anything else in the cupboard to bring for lunch.
Manicotti can be a little fussy, I’ll give you that. I attempted to use a plastic bag with a corner cut off to pipe the filling into the cooked shells, but I couldn’t really get the hang of that activity. Eventually I just used a spoon to kind of shovel the filling in. Sure, it got messy and filling ended up falling out of the shells and into the baking dish, but it all tasted really good in the end, so what does a little sloppiness really matter, huh?
I based my recipe on one from Giada De Laurentiis’s Everyday Italian, for Beef and Cheese Manicotti. I’m personally a big fan of ground turkey, I think it tastes faintly peppery, but if you’re not that into it, go ahead and use beef. And if you have leftover roasted turkey, which some of you might have in the next week or so, for whatever reason, that would probably taste pretty darn good, too.
Cheesy Turkey Manicotti
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
- 1/2 lb. ground turkey
- 1-2 T. olive oil
- 1/2 a small yellow onion, finely diced
- 1/4 c. pine nuts
- 1 15-ounce container of ricotta (whole milk is best, if you can find it)
- 1 1/2 c. Mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1/2 c. Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- salt and pepper
- 1 box of Manicotti shells (there are usually 12-14 tubes in a box
- 1 1/2 c. Marinara sauce (there is no shame in sauce from a jar)
Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground turkey and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until it’s cooked through. You might need to add a touch of oil to the pan if the meat is very lean, but probably not much. Once the meat is cooked through, remove from the skillet and set aside in a medium mixing bowl. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Once it’s hot, add the onion. Saute until the onion is soft and golden, probably about five minutes. Remove to the bowl with the turkey.
While the meat and onion mixture is cooling off a bit, bring a big pot of salted water to boil to cook the manicotti. You’ll probably need to cook the pasta in batches, for about five minutes. You want the pasta soft but not cooked through all the way, and not falling apart or anything. Pour a thin, thin layer of Marinara sauce into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish, and set the cooked manicotti into this to cool and await filling.
This is also a good time to toast the pine nuts, if you want to. A toaster oven is perfect for this, but if you don’t have one, you can toast them in a 350F oven for about 2 or 3 minutes. Just keep a close eye on them—they burn fast!
Once your pasta is cooked, the turkey is cooled down, and the pine nuts are toasted, go ahead and mix up the filling: Stir together the turkey, onions, pine nuts, ricotta cheese, about a cup of the mozzarella, the oregano, garlic, and salt and pepper. Now you can use a spoon or a pastry bag (if you’re more dexterous than I) to fill the manicotti with the filling. Arrange the filled manicotti in a single layer in the baking dish, pour the remaining marinara over the top, and spring the rest of the Mozzarella and the Parmesan over the top.
If your oven isn’t already preheated from the pine nuts, do that now: Preheat to 350F. Bake the manicotti for about 35 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is browned. Let it cool off for about five minutes before serving so everything doesn’t fall apart as soon as you dish it out.
If you’re using leftover roasted turkey, I’d recommend dicing it as finely as you can, so it’s easier to spoon into the manicotti. If you really like to make and freeze meals, you can even freeze the whole assembled dish, un-baked. When you’re ready to make it, defrost and bake at 350F for probably closer to 45 minutes. Me, I just put the extra servings in small Tupperware containers and microwave them when I need a quick meal.
The only problem with my love of freezing meals is that I also love to cook dinner every night, and I almost always have leftovers. Needless to say, my freezer is filling up fast. But I really don’t feel there’s anything wrong with that. Not a single thing at all.