Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cheese Stuffed Manicotti Is Divine!

 Happy Tuesday, everyone.  It has been an absolutely beautiful day here in Nashville.  Mother Nature loves to tease us with 60 degree weather in mid January, but that is about to change.  While out and about today, we saw the salt trucks treating the streets with beet juice for the snow that is supposed to blow in tonight.  How can she do that to us?  Just how?  I know it's winter, and I know it's mid January, but we all really, really like 60 degree weather.  Really, we do.  And, we'll be good - promise.  Double promise, if you will only send more sunny days with mild temperatures.

I know that won't do a bit of good, but it's worth a try.  Makes me feel better if nothing else.  Tomorrow, it's going to be a high of 39.  I tried.  We'll see what happens.

Last night, our son Tyler and his roomie, Rick, came over to join us for dinner before they take off on their next big adventure.  I whipped up some cheese stuffed manicotti, (super yum), a beautiful green salad, and some crusty bread.  It was quite a hit.

Sometimes, you just need some pasta to soothe your soul.  It can be a super comfort food.  This recipe is one I have been making for years and years.  Don't know where I got the recipe, but am sure glad I found it because it is delicious.   You can make it with meat or vegetarian, whichever you prefer.

If you aren't familiar with manicotti, it is a big, fat, tubular pasta that is made to be stuffed.  The box I bought had 14 noodles in it and it fills a 9x13 baking dish.
I made this dish vegetarian for Christmas dinner for those who don't eat meat.  Our super picky 10 year old grandson gorged himself on it and he kept saying, "Grandma, this is SOOOOO good."  I couldn't have guessed after he ate the fourth helping.  That's just to confirm how good it is.  That boy won't eat much of anything and is suspicious of everything.  The good thing is this has lots of tasty cheese, big pasta noodles, marinara sauce, and meat if you want it.  I added spinach to my recipe on Christmas for some extra nutrition.

The noodles are filled with a combination of ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, and mozzarella cheese.  What could be better?  Then, it is covered with your favorite marinara sauce to which you may or may not have added ground beef or Italian sausage - your choice.  I used Italian sausage last night and it was amazing!  

Here is what you need:

1 box Manicotti noodles, cooked for about 7 minutes - you want it very al dente since it bakes in the oven

1 26-32 ounce jar of your favorite marinara sauce (I use Trader Joe's marinara with basil)
2 beaten eggs
1 and 1/2 15 ounce containers ricotta cheese
8 ounces grated mozzarella cheese, reserve half
1 fresh ball mozzarella cheese
1/5 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp salt
pinch of black pepper

Combine the eggs, ricotta, 1/2 of the mozzarella, grated parmesan, salt and pepper.  Mix thoroughly to completely combine.

Cook the manicotti noodles in boiling salted water for 7 minutes.  Remove, drain, and let cool until you can handle comfortably.  I used to fill these with a spoon and it is so hard to do.  You chase the noodles everywhere when your hands get goopy with the cheese filling!  They are super hard to hold on to.  Now, I have a nifty trick.  Cut the corner from a gallon sized zip lock bag.  Fill the bag with the cheese filling and pipe it into the noodles by gently squeezing the bag.  Start on one end and fill half way, turn the noodle and fill the other end.  This will keep the noodles from splitting if you don't overfill them.
Sorry, I could not take a picture while filling the noodles.  Only two hands and no one else was here.  Next time maybe!  You can figure it out I am sure.

Fill the 9 x 13 baking dish with the noodles by laying them side by side.  There are always two at the bottom crossways.  Just how it goes.

Brown 1 pound of ground beef or Italian sausage.  Drain if necessary.  Add the marinara sauce and combine with the browned meat.  Pour over the noodles in the baking dish.  Cover with the remaining shredded mozzarella.  We like more mozzarella than that, so I also sliced a ball of fresh mozzarella and scattered it over the sauce.  Bake at 350 degrees fahrenheit for 45-50 minutes.  Make sure the dish is covered with foil while cooking.  Remove from oven and let cool a little before removing the foil. I normally serve two stuffed manicotti at a time because it's VERY filling.  The guys ate more than that.  Go figure.
This dish also reheats very well.  We are having leftovers tonight.  Yay.  That means no cooking for me!

Give this recipe a try.  I think  you will really, really like it.  It's great for entertaining because it looks like you worked all day making it - very impressive.   I mean, you just can't go wrong with pasta, sauce, and cheese now can you?

Everyday Donna

Things to Remember:

Life is a combination of magic and pasta.  Federico Fellini