I’ve been to some turkey camps where harvested birds are breasted and the rest simply discarded. Turkey legs and thighs get a bad rap from some hunters, as they can be challenging to cook, but the meat on turkey legs is dark and extremely flavorful, lending itself well to some recipes.
Stuffed manicotti noodles are a prime example of where the dark meat from wild turkey can really shine. Legs that have been braised, or pressure cooked in an Instant Pot, are fall-off-the-bone tender. The liquid they are cooked in becomes a rich broth that can be used for cooking or soup.
There’s a number of different ingredients needed for manicotti stuffing, but they’re easy to prep and stuff into the tubes with little effort. Once baked, the manicotti has a rich, creamy flavor that does not hide the turkey. Manicotti is a great recipe for using turkey legs to feed family and friends, or prepare a wonderful meal for your next hunting camp.
Turkey Leg Prep
• 2 turkey legs (produces about 2 cups of chopped turkey meat)
• 1 large yellow onion, quartered
• 2 large carrots, coarsely chopped
• 3 cups water
• 18 manicotti dry pasta shells
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
• 1 red pepper, finely chopped
• ¼ cup black olives, chopped
• 1 cup cremini or portabella mushrooms, finely chopped
• 2 cups cooked turkey meat, chopped
• 2 cups ricotta cheese
• ½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
• 1⅔ cup mozzarella, grated
• 2 eggs, lightly beaten
• 1 cup turkey broth reserved from above (chicken broth is fine)
• 1 jar pasta sauce
1. Put turkey legs, onion and carrots in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 3-4 hours until the meat flakes off the bone. If you have an Instant Pot or other multifunctional pressure cooker, set it to pressure cook on high for 20 minutes then do a natural release. Let turkey legs cool, remove meat from bone and chop.
2. Cook manicotti noodles as directed on the package. Drain and rinse immediately with cold water to cool noodles and stop the cooking process.
3. In a large saucepan, heat oil to medium and add the onion, red pepper, olives and mushrooms. Sauté for 5-7 minutes until vegetables start to soften.
4. Remove the pan from the heat and add the turkey, ricotta, parmesan and 2/3 cup mozzarella. This will bring the temperature of the mixture down slightly. Now mix in the beaten eggs.
5. Put a thin layer of pasta sauce on the bottom of a large baking dish.
6. Stuff each manicotti with the vegetable/cheese/turkey mixture, and place in the baking dish on top of the sauce. Repeat until all manicotti are filled.
7. Combine 1 cup of the turkey broth that you cooked the legs in with the rest of the pasta sauce and pour over the manicotti. Top with remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 50 minutes at 350°F. Remove foil and broil until the cheese browns and is bubbling.
Put the turkey mixture in a zipper bag. Cut a ¼-inch hole in one corner of the bag so it can be used as a piping bag. Insert the cut corner of the bag into the manicotti and gently squeeze, until the pasta tube is filled up firmly and evenly.
A slow cooker is a good option for cooking turkey legs long and slow, making the meat tender and easy to work with, just make sure the legs are covered with water. An Instant Pot reduces the time required to prepare legs and locks the moisture into the meat. It is best to remove the small leg bones by hand as you can feel them, avoid chopping these small, hard to see bones with a knife.