The snow is drifting down at a pretty pace outside my window. There are two to three inches covering the half inch of ice that was built up yesterday. On my run this morning it sounded like I was crossing a very precarious, partially frozen pond with the ice cracking at every foot fall.
I love snow. It invigorates me. It inspires me. The Bible says that we will be washed white as snow…I always think of that on days like this. There’s something purifying about snow. Outside it covers up the imperfections…layers a soft blanket of beauty over the landscape. But in the case of our souls there will be no hiding stains under blankets – our sins will be completely washed away and made as white as snow. Awesome!
So, I’m sure you’re wondering what any of this has to do with food. It doesn’t really. Though snowy days are incredibly great excuses to go mess up the kitchen. ; )
I’ve decided I’m going to share my “favorite recipe of the year so far” with you. Are you ready?
Well, it’s Manicotti. Yep, that’s the title. Beautiful isn’t it? Manicotti. You have to say it with an Italian accent. The recipe is just as beautiful. Seasoned with basil, stuffed with cheeses and vegetables, drenched with savory tomato sauce…Mamma Mia! MmMM! (For those of you who don’t know, I’m going to Italia this year. It’s already rubbing off on me! :D )
Of course, I don’t measure these things, but for those of you who would die for this recipe, I’ll put in my guesstimations. (The first measurements will make about 1 1/2 boxes of manicotti, while the second measurements will make three boxes.)
Tomato Sauce –
1-2 T. olive oil
1-2 onions, diced
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
Saute until onions are soft and perhaps a bit browned. Add…
11/2 -3 28oz. cans of tomato sauce. For those who like chunks, substitute a can of diced tomatoes for the sauce.
1/4 – 1/2 c. water
1-2 t. basil
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes
You can also add Italian sausage or ground beef, but this dish is great vegetarian as well.
Let simmer while you’re making the filling and stuffing the manicotti. You want it very hot.
2 T. olive oil
3- 6 cloves garlic, minced
4-8 oz. mushrooms, chopped
2-4 c. fresh spinach. chopped
2-4 carrots, grated
salt to taste
Saute until mushrooms are soft. Cool slightly.
1 lb. -2lb. mozzerella cheese, grated
8-16 oz. fresh parmesan, grated (Reserve some cheese to sprinkle on top.)
1-2 cartons small curd cottage cheese
Mix together and add to veggie mixture. I usually taste everything before I add eggs to make sure it’s seasoned properly.Of course, you can safely taste it with eggs if you get farm fresh, but I don’t like the consistence after the eggs go in before it’s cooked.
Now for a “fast and awesome tip” – put the filling in a gallon sized plastic bag and cut a hole in the corner that’s just smaller than the end of the manicotti. Voila! ( Oops, that’s French isn’t it? ) It’s soooo easy to fill them up!
I don’t cook the noodles before hand as I’m really lazy when it comes to unnecessary steps. The thought of trying to handle and fill 3 dozen slippery manicotti shells is enough to make me stop the recipe right there!
Start by ladling a spoonful of HOT sauce into a casserole dish. Arrange stuffed shells side by side. Pour on the remainder of the sauce and cover with foil.
Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle on some cheese and bake for another 30 minutes.
Serve with a Caesar Salad, sourdough bread, perhaps a cup of Tuscan Wine and gelato for dessert.