Monday, January 26, 2009

Italy - Manicotti

Here's our last week in Europe and we're traveling this time to Italy. Italian food is just as varied as French food is, with each region having a different focus or tradition (I'm feeling too lazy at the moment to write them all out, but if you're curious, you can check out this site). It's supposedly a popular food in Italy because it's easy to make, but seriously, this took me all afternoon! Maybe it's just because it's unfamiliar to me. I forgot a couple of the ingredients (the eggs and the parsley), but it still came out pretty well. I had a bunch of the meat and ricotta mixture left over, so I made an impromptu lasagna using ratatouille instead of tomato sauce. Between the tomato sauce for the manicotti and the ratatouille for the lasagna, my freezer is now down to nearly half full (or empty). I would, however, use more tomato sauce than what's listed below next time.

The other problem I had was keeping the manicotti together. The pasta ripped apart and it turned into manicotti casserole instead. I don't mind, it still tastes as good. It just doesn't look quite as pretty. If any of you have tips for how to keep it together better, I'd love to hear them.

And if you're anything like me, you're going to have to do dishes three times, I used that many pots and pans.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
  • 10 oz chopped spinach
  • 1 (12 ounce) package manicotti shells
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 cups spaghetti sauce, divided
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute onions until translucent. Saute garlic for 1 minute and stir in ground beef. Cook until well browned and crumbled. Season with salt and set aside to cool.

To the ground beef mixture add the cooked spinach and ricotta cheese. When the mixture is cool, add the beaten eggs. Spread 1/4 cup spaghetti sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Gently drain the manicotti shells and carefully stuff each one with the meat and cheese mixture; place shells in prepared dish. Lightly cover the dish with plastic wrap or a clean, damp towel to prevent shells from cracking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Prepare the white sauce by melting the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour and chicken bouillon. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring constantly, until it begins to bubble. Stir in half and half and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in parsley. Pour or ladle the sauce evenly over the stuffed shells.

Stir the basil into the remaining spaghetti sauce. Carefully pour or ladle spaghetti sauce over the white sauce, trying to layer the sauces without mixing.

Cover and bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven, uncover and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake, uncovered, for 10 minutes more.

Cook spinach according to package directions. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add manicotti shells and parboil for half of the time recommended on the package. Drain and cover with cool water to stop the cooking process and prevent the shells from cracking.


Crabby McSlacker said...

I'm not surprised that a recipe Italians would consider easy would take all afternoon!

Sounds delicious though.

Was a bit confused, though, by the uncooked manicotti shells popping up in the last paragraph. That sounds like how I'd make it... whoops, forgot to cook the shells!

The Lethological Gourmet said...

Oooh, whoops, looks like I got my recipe out of order somehow! So that paragraph about the partially cooked shells was supposed to be in the middle, before the actual stuffing...

It does seem counter-intuitive to have raw pasta in the recipe (it's the same thing for lasagna), but the sauce and stuff around it cooks it, and starting out raw makes it less likely to get soggy.