Saturday, November 1, 2008

Stuffed Manicotti

This recipe involves a good amount of work, but it's definitely worth it. Hey, it's better than your typical "buy generic pasta and sauce-in-a-jar" meal.

I swear I'm not a food elitist. Hey, I use frozen spinach and canned sauce (with other stuff) in this recipe!

15 oz tub of ricotta cheese
Mozzarella - "enough"
~3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
10 oz frozen spinach (or about 1 1/2 cups cooked spinach)
~2/3 lb. Italian sausage
1 box of manicotti (mine had 14 shells in it)
Tomato sauce (use a recipe you like)

Cook your Italian sausage and spinach, and put them in a big bowl.

Get your cheeses ready. Oddly enough, I'm not a big ricotta fan, yet most of the stuffing is composed of ricotta.

Add the whole tub of ricotta. It'd help if you actually broke it down though.

There we go!

Add Parmesan and mozzarella, to taste.

By that, I seriously mean "to taste." Grab a spoonful of this mixture, taste it, and adjust according to your taste. On that note, it helps to taste everything you cook, during all stages--it's a good way to determine whether you need to adjust seasoning/measurements as you go.

These are manicotti noodles--we'll be stuffing them with the mixture we just made.

But of course, you need to boil them first.

Much better!

So, I first tried using a fork to stuff these shells, but that didn't really help that much.

Chopsticks, on the other hand, are great for stuffing in that...stuff. Hey, if you look at the bowl, you can see the photographer!

Wait, there is no photographer, it's a camera on a tripod.

I actually wouldn't suggest stuffing these shells to the point of bursting--you want a good balance of stuffing, pasta, and sauce, and it's not cool to take a bite of something that's 1% pasta, 1% sauce, and 98% cheese.

Once in a while, you'll get shells that break, like this. No problem, just stuff them like usual and eat them like a taco.

Or, stuff them like usual and place them seam side down when we bake them later.

Ready to assemble! Get a nice casserole dish, and get some extra virgin olive oil on the bottom. Please, please don't call it EVOO, or I will fly to your house and punch you. And then I probably won't post on here anymore because I'll be dead.

Get a semi-thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom--I'm not sure why this is always done, but my guess is that it acts as a protective layer so that you don't get a burnt, crusty mess of noodles after you're done baking.

Start placing your stuffed manicotti in the dish.

If you have a tiny dish like me and your noodles fill one whole layer, start making a new layer.

Cover with tomato sauce...

Then cover with mozzarella. However, don't put this much on! I made a mistake, and the result was way too cheesy. You want maybe half of this much--at least enough to see the sauce underneath.

Bake at 350F for about 35 minutes, but be sure to check your oven after 30, and don't feel bad about going over to 40-45. Everything in here is already cooked, so it's a matter of preference as to how "burnt" you want things.

Take them out of the oven...

And serve.

Not bad, eh? Almost looks like lasagna.

Well, bastardized lasagna.

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