25 March 2011

light but man-friendly manicotti

Do you ever find that you get really excited about a healthy new recipe, but then your boyfriend/husband/guy friend/brother/etc. gives it a resounding "meh"?

This happens to me all the time, though to his credit, Mark is getting better. But he really does the best with healthy recipes if they're only mostly healthy, and don't contain things like sprouts and adzuki beans. If you're only of the lucky ones, whose significant other will eat the healthy stuff enthusiastically, I'm jealous!

We had some manicotti shells laying around in the pantry, and I really wanted to donate them, but Mark insisted we hang on to them and cook them. They take up SO MUCH SPACE for just a few little shells. In our little pantry, I could not justify it. So I had to find a way to cook them.

Here's a recipe I found and adapted, which totally fits the bill (original recipe and the image below, here). Uses up the manicotti, and can be made pretty healthily. Bonus, this is really easy to make vegetarian, and still has lots of great flavor thanks to the spinach, mushrooms and yummy sauce.

I generally like to make anything like this -- shells, manicotti, lasagna -- with homemade sauce. You can definitely use something store-bought, but homemade can be really easy if you stick to mostly pantry ingredients. When we make sauce ourselves, we say that we're "A-make-a a-bigga tomata sauce!" So here's how you a-make-a a-bigga tomata sauce. (Keep scrolling for the full manicotti recipe.)

Recipe #1

Bigga tomata sauce
1 large can of whole tomatoes (unseasoned or Italian seasonings)
1 regular can of diced tomatoes (unseasoned or Italian)
1 big yellow or white onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, diced or pressed
1/2 cup of leftover red wine (not swill, but doesn't need to be fancy)
1/4 cup of Balsamic vinegar (optional)
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. dried basil
1 t. dried parsely
Crushed red pepper to taste
Salt and pepper

At the end, you'll homogenize the sauce (with a food mill, immersion blender, food processor, blender, etc.), so there's no need for anything going in to be too pretty.

Start by sauteing the onion your preferred way (butter, oil, or my favorite: water), and keep going until it's translucent and just starting to brown. Add the garlic and stir for one more minute. If you sauteed in a pan, transfer the onions and garlic to a bit pot or Dutch oven. If you started there, you're all set. Add the tomatoes, and bring to a simmer.

Add the dried herbs, and add the wine and vinegar, if adding. The vinegar will make the sauce a little more tangy, which I think is perfect for manicotti and lasagna which have a lot of cheese. For regular spaghetti topping, I'd leave out the vinegar, and add a pinch of sugar instead.

Cover it and let it simmer on low for 30-90 minutes... it's not an exact science. I like using one can of whole tomatoes so that it's easy to visually gauge the cooking progress. Once the whole tomatoes are starting to fall apart, you're good to go, but the longer you cook it, the more robust a flavor it will develop... and the harder time you'll have cleaning your cookware.

When you think it's done, cut off the heat, uncover it, and let it cool for a little while. (This is a great time to get started on the other elements of your manicotti.) After it's cooled enough so that if it splatters it won't burn you, it's time to homogenize it. If I'm feeling fancy, I bust out the food mill, since that takes out all the tomato seeds and makes sure no chunks survive. But if I'm using canned tomatoes, there are no skins to worry about, and so I keep the dishes simple by just using the immersion blender. Do this SLOWLY and CAREFULLY. Same goes if you use the blender or food processor -- follow your device's instructions for blending hot liquids.

Salt and pepper to taste, and enjoy a-bigga tomata sauce!

Recipe #2

Healthy but man-friendly stuffed manicotti
1 package of manicotti shells, boiled to al dente and drained
1 cup of part-skim ricotta
1 cup of low-fat cottage cheese
1 whole egg or 2 egg whites
2 chicken Italian sausages (OPTIONAL; I like to use one sweet, one spicy; Vegetarians could use veggie crumbles or just leave it out)
1/2 a big bunch of spinach (you can eyeball this)
1 c. mushrooms, chopped
1 c. mozzarella cheese, shredded or sliced
3-4 c. (approx.) of marinara sauce or bigga tomata sauce

Preheat the oven to 350. Boil the manicotti, rinse them really well in cold water, and set aside.

If you're using the sausage, remove the casings, break them into little pieces, and saute until cooked through. Wash your hands a million times in the process -- eek! Salmonella!

Remove the sausage from the pan and let it drain. Saute the mushrooms and let them sweat, and once they start to get dry, add the spinach. Cook as much of the water out of both as you can without burning them.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta and cottage cheese, and stir well. Stir in the egg or egg whites. Add a few pinches of salt and a couple twists of pepper. If you want to get extra fancy, add a quick dash or a few grates of nutmeg.

After the sausage and mushroom/spinach mixture have cooled a bit, stir them into the cheese.

Now it's time to stuff! I find that hands and a long-handled iced tea spoon make this easiest. Hold the pasta tube in one hand, using the heel of your hand to block one end. Use the spoon to fill from the other end. You want to completely fill but not overstuff each one.

Spread the stuffed shells nicely in a baking dish, being careful not to overcrowd or layer them, and then top with the sauce.

You can definitely use more sauce that what's shown in the picture above. You can also try adding some sauce to the bottom of the baking dish first... I would do this next time.

Bake uncovered at 350 for 25-30 minutes, and then top with mozzarella cheese and bake 5 more minutes until the cheese is melted.

Serve carefully (I didn't manage to get a single photographable example out of the whole pan!), and enjoy! Even if they come out of the pan messy, they are still delicious!

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1 comment:

  1. Awesome! This looks great!
    I've never made manicotti, but I like all the ingredients, so I'm guessing it would be a winner. In addition, I also own an immersion blender that I've never used.
    In other words, I totally need to make this. Thanks for sharing!


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