October 8, 2013

Stuff It!

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Margaret's Morsels | Stuffed Manicotti



We were on the road seven weeks this summer.  One trip was personal; the rest were business.  Normally when we're out of town, we like to eat at restaurants that are local to the area.  An exception to this is when we see a restaurant we've eaten at before that doesn't have a location in the city where we live.  On one trip, we saw an Italian restaurant that my husband and I used to frequent when we lived in another city.  We decided to take a walk down memory lane and eat there one night.  Our son said he wasn't in the mood for Italian, so my husband and I went without him.

The restaurant was just as we remembered.  Romantic lighting; Italian music playing softly in the background; linen tablecloths and napkins; a house salad with chickpeas and pepperoncini tossed with a tangy Italian vinaigrette; a menu selection that hadn't changed much -- if any -- in 20 years.  It was hard to decide what to order, but I finally decided to get something I hadn't eaten in years:  stuffed manicotti.  It was as good as I remembered.  In fact, it was so good, I decided to take half of it back to the hotel to reheat in the microwave for lunch the next day.

I remember the first time I ever made stuffed manicotti.  My husband and I were newlyweds, living downtown in a third floor walk up apartment with a small kitchen.  The manicotti stuck to the pot; a lot of the manicotti tore while it was cooking; I used a soup spoon to stuff the filling into the manicotti which made it a tedious task; I didn't have a baking pan big enough for all the manicotti and had to use two pans which meant I didn't have enough sauce.  Supper was served late that night and, although the finished product didn't look pretty, it was delicious and earned a spot in my tried and true recipe collection.  

Manicotti -- large pasta tubes -- can be stuffed with a variety of fillings such as meat and cheese, spinach and cheese or, like the recipe I'm sharing today, a combination of cheeses.


Margaret's Morsels | Stuffed Manicotti
Uncooked manicotti

I'm not a fan of nonstick cookware, but I absolutely love a nonstick pot when I cook pasta.  Too bad I didn't have one when I first got married! When you cook pasta, be sure to add enough salt to the water so it tastes like saltwater.  If the water isn't salty enough, the cooked pasta won't be either.  Maybe my first experience cooking manicotti scarred me, because ever since then I use a wooden spoon to stir the manicotti instead of a pasta fork.

While the manicotti is cooking, spread a thin layer of pasta sauce in the bottom of a greased 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan.



Margaret's Morsels | Stuffed Manicotti



Make the filling by combining eggs, seasonings and a combination of Mozzarella, Parmesan and Ricotta cheeses.  Ricotta is a slightly grainy white cheese that can be used in savory dishes as well as sweet dishes such as cheesecake and cannoli.  It's sold in a carton like sour cream and cottage cheese and is usually found near them or the cream cheese at the grocery store.


Margaret's Morsels | Stuffed Manicotti
The filling

When the manicotti is done, rather than dumping them into a colander, I use a slotted spoon and scoop them out one at a time.  When they've all been removed, pat them dry with a paper towel.  This step may seem unnecessary, but it's actually quite important.  It keeps the sauce from being diluted with the residual water.  Lay the manicotti in a single layer on a cutting board or other work surface.  Don't fret if some of the manicotti tore; they can still be used.

Margaret's Morsels | Stuffed Manicotti

Depending on your perspective, now comes the fun or not so fun part of the recipe:  stuffing the manicotti.  I no longer use a soup spoon, but a disposable pastry bag.  If you don't have one, you can put the filling in a plastic food storage bag, snip off the corner and squeeze the filling into the manicotti.  An iced teaspoon also works good.  The long handle reaches deeper into the manicotti than a soup spoon.  I find it easier to pipe the filling halfway in one end of the manicotti, turn it around and finish filling it on the other end.  Put the stuffed manicotti in the prepared baking pan.  If the manicotti tore, place it in the pan with the torn side down.  If there's any leftover filling, you can spread it on top of the manicotti.  I rarely have any filling left.  I don't like to skimp on the filling so I'm only able to fill 10 out of the 14 manicotti.  If you fill more of the manicotti than I do, just pack them tightly in the baking dish in a single layer.

Margaret's Morsels | Stuffed Manicotti

Cover the manicotti with more pasta sauce and cook until it's heated through.  This can take anywhere from 35 to 55 minutes depending on your oven.  You'll know when it's ready because the sauce will be bubbling. If you take a peek at the filling, you'll see that it's smooth and creamy.

Margaret's Morsels | Stuffed Manicotti
 Ready to eat

Heat the remaining sauce to serve with the manicotti.  If you like a lot of sauce, you might want to buy a second can of pasta sauce to ensure you've got enough.  The leftover sauce will come in handy when you reheat any leftovers.

Remember the manicotti I took back to the hotel?  Our son, who wasn't in the mood for Italian food, thought it looked good and ended up eating it before I even had a chance to put it in the refrigerator!  He liked it so much, he wanted to know if I could make it at home sometime.  Before I had a chance, we were on another trip and ate at a different Italian restaurant. Our son ordered stuffed manicotti, but he didn't think it was as good as the first restaurant.  A few weeks later, I finally had a chance to make stuffed manicotti.  I was touched when our son told me it was better than the stuffed manicotti served at either restaurant!

Stuffed Manicotti
4 to 6 Servings

1 (8 oz.) box manicotti
3 cups Ricotta cheese
1 (12 oz.) pkg. shredded Mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3 tsp. parsley flakes
3/4 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 (24 oz.) can pasta sauce

Cook manicotti according to package directions; drain.  Dry manicotti with paper towels and place in a single layer on a cutting board or other work surface.  In a large bowl, combine cheeses, eggs, salt, parsley flakes, oregano and pepper.  Fill manicotti with the cheese mixture.  Spread a thin layer of pasta sauce in a greased 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan.  Place manicotti in pan in a single layer; cover with 2 to 3 cups pasta sauce. Bake at 350° for 35 to 55 minutes, or until heated through and cheese is melted. Heat the remaining sauce and serve with the manicotti.

© Margaret's Morsels