So, once upon a time almost three years ago, I made spinach-filled manicotti. Ben loved it, I hated it. It tasted like spinach cottage cheese to me. That’s because my mom’s lasagna [which I oddly enough, haven't ever blogged about even though it's amazing] uses cottage cheese instead of ricotta, and I thought that substitution would work in other dishes. Turns out I was wrong. Blech! Ever since that day, I’ve been wary of spinach in baked pasta dishes. I know it’s not the spinach’s fault, and I love it in other things, but in pasta now? No thanks.
When I heard through the Secret Recipe Club that Jey at The Jey of Cooking was raising money for the American Heart Association in honor of her mom’s heart transplant by asking bloggers to make a heart-healthy dish, I realized this was the perfect opportunity to get back into the spinach pasta game.
And get back into it, I did.
See that? I call it Turkey, Spinach, and Kale Stuffed Shells. From the outside, it looks like your typical cheesy, saucy stuffed shells. Delicious, right? Needs no explanation, you assume. Wrong! On the inside, you’ll find a creamy sauce made with lots of greens like spinach and kale, a bit of hearty meat, your typical Italian seasonings, and enough to ricotta and parmesan cheese to enjoy but not be weighted down by. Extra creaminess comes from fat free Greek yogurt. Perfecto!
So why is this recipe heart healthy? Well, for one, it uses ground turkey instead of ground beef [lower in fat and calories]–and the amount of meat is reduced to be more of a “condiment” or flavoring than the focus. The focus of these shells is the greens. Kale is one of the healthiest greens around, thanks to its vitamins and minerals, as well as its ability to lower cholesterol when eaten cooked. Pretty neat. Spinach isn’t bad for you either, and this recipe does not taste bad… unlike my previous attempt… so I’m in, and hope you’ll be too! I know you’ll love this cheesy, veggie filled, hearty take on traditional stuffed shells. Please head over to Jey’s blog to read more about what she’s doing to honor her mom and check out the recipe roundup on March 30th!
Turkey, Spinach, and Kale Stuffed Shells
click to print
- 12 ounce package jumbo pasta shells [approximately 36 shells]
- 1/2 pound ground turkey
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups fresh kale, packed tightly
- 2 cups fresh spinach, packed tightly
- 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1 cup fat free Greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- dash ground nutmeg
- 1 25 ounce jar marinara sauce [I used Muir Glen Cabernet Marinara]
- 1/2 cup shredded cheese [I used a pizza blend cheese (mozzarella, parmesan, provolone, romano) because I had it, but mozzarella or any Italian blend would work fine.]
- freshly ground lemon pepper
Begin by boiling a large pot of salted water for the shells. Once boiling, add shells and cook to al dente. Then drain, rinse with cold water, and spread out on a baking sheet to cool. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Then, brown ground turkey in a skillet. Add garlic to pan to saute when turkey is almost done cooking. Drain any excess fat and set aside.
In a food processor, combine kale, spinach, ricotta, and greek yogurt and process until greens are chopped very finely. You may have to do this in two batches, or add more greens as you go depending on the size of your food processor.
Remove greens mixture to a mixing bowl, then add cooked turkey, parmesan cheese, black pepper, basil, oregano, and red pepper. Stir together until incorporated.
Spoon a small amount of marinara sauce [~ 1/2 cup] on bottom of a large baking dish*. Then fill each shell with about 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of kale/turkey mixture and place in baking dish. Repeat until all shells are filled, then cover with remaining marinara sauce. You want the shells to be covered, but not drowning in sauce. Top with shredded cheese and lemon pepper. Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until cheese is brown and bubbly.
Time: 45 minutes [15 minutes active]
Yield: 8 servings.
Notes: *Regarding the baking dishes: I used a 9×13 pan and two individual size serving dishes, but you could use two square baking dishes [eat one and freeze/give away the other] or just use a larger dish [11x15]. Or just halve the recipe to begin with!