July 23, 2013

Baked Manicotti with Meat Sauce

I think I can get used to this early morning thing... The house is silent, the boys are still asleep... Of course, I'm listening to loud, obnoxious music, because I can, but I'm a good girl, using headphones. Just me and my beastie. I talk to her a lot more when no one else is around. She's good company. Especially at the moment, I just cut up a peach for breakfast... I swear she smells them across the house and comes looking for a nibble! The sun is long up, and just now touching the trees in our courtyard... my favorite part is having the patio door open. It's wonderfully cool outside, and I love the fresh air! I long for the spring and fall days when I can leave the doors and windows open all day. In a few hours it will be too hot, and we'll retreat into our air-conditioned cave. I miss my birdfeeders. We didn't think we would be in this apartment long enough to bother hanging them, so my cheery chirpy companions are absent. No hummers, goldfinches, jays or sparrows. Now that I know we'll be here at least till spring again... I think I need to get them out! My Mom has already updated me from the cabin, our four giant hummingbird feeders are full, and the hummers are swarming! I can't wait to be there. 

Baked Manicotti with Meat Sauce (inspired by Cooks Country)
Printable Recipe

Meat Sauce:
butter/olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 pound italian sausage (I used a mix of hot and sweet)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
Salt and pepper

2 cups ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (use fresh if you can find it!)
1 cup shredded provolone cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
1 package lasagna noodles (you can use a 16 pack of no-boil noodles if you'd like)

First, lay the lasagna noodles in a 9x13 casserole dish and pour boiling water over them, covering completely. This will soften up the noodles while you get the rest of the dish ready. The original recipe uses no-boil noodles, which I assume soften faster, but my normal noodles were perfect by the time I was ready for them. Also, if using fresh mozzarella, cut about 1/2 cup of it into small cubes, lay them on a plate and put them in the freezer. Preheat the oven to 375.

Next, the sauce! Heat 2 Tb butter or olive oil  over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add onions and a pinch of salt, and saute till translucent. Add meat, breaking up with your spoon while it browns. You don't really want huge chunks in this sauce. Once the meat is just browned, remove about a cup with a slotted spoon into a small bowl for later. Add tomato paste, garlic, and pepper flakes to remaining meat mixture and cook until garlic mellows, about 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. (You can make this sauce and refrigerate it up to 3 days ahead)
Now, the filling! Combine ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella, 3/4 cup provolone, egg, salt, pepper, basil, and reserved meat mixture in medium bowl. Drain noodles and place on a cutting board or plate. They won't be quite al dente, no worries, they'll finish cooking. Discard the water and dry out your dish, you're about to reuse it!
Time for assembly! Spread half of meat sauce over bottom of baking dish. Place a scant 1/4 cup of filling on one end of your noodle.
Roll up and place, seam side down, on the sauce.

Continue until all filling is used.
Spread remaining sauce over manicotti rolls. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil and sprinkle with remaining mozzarella (the frozen cubes you cut earlier, if using) and provolone. Bake until cheese is melted and golden, about 10 minutes. Let cool 10-15 minutes before serving.
I love the cubes of mozzarella, they melt into perfect, ooey-gooey, stretchy cheesy puddles of deliciousness. Yum!!
And that rolled lasagna method? SO much simpler and easier than trying to stuff tubes of actual manicotti! Mmmm, tangy zesty homemade sauce, just enough cheese (which means plenty!) perfectly tender pasta...
And creamy, slightly meaty, perfectly seasoned filling! Too much ricotta can be grainy and overwhelming, but with the other cheeses this filling is just right. This was a fabulous dinner, and leftovers were good for days and days! A classic, slightly re-invented and just about perfected. There may seem like lots of steps, but once you've gone through them all once, it's really not difficult.

1 comment :

  1. April, that looks positively delicious. We can't get the long lasagne noodles over here. I had meant to bring some back with me when I was home recently, but at the end I just didn't have room in my suitcase. As it is I ended up having overage and paying a mint and incurring the Toddster's wrath! lol

    I shared the link to this with my son's partner. It looks like something she would love making!

    I, alas, can only look, dream and drool! Love you! xxoo


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