Thursday, September 8, 2011

Spinach and Ricotta Manicotti

My Aunt Mary Lou used to make her famous homemade Manicotti when I was quite young. Always eagerly anticipated and quickly devoured, her baked Manicotti was always a special treat when we gathered for large family dinners. I can't remember the last time she made this revered family favourite, so inspired by childhood memories, I decided to make my own version using a rich cheesy spinach filling, topped with Mamma Styles tomato sauce, and a generous handful of shaved pecorino and mozzarella cheese.

Manicotti, which means sleeve in Italian, is one of the oldest shapes of Italian pasta. Known for their hearty consistency, the pasta's unique tubular shape makes them perfect for sumptuous fillings and robust, highly flavorful sauces. This easy and delicious recipe for Spinach and Ricotta Manicotti, baked for just half an hour to golden perfection, is wonderfully heartwarming and flavourful. Served with a crisp green salad and fragrant garlic bread, my Manicotti was tantalizingly close to my Aunt Mary Lou's classic original. Maybe, if we're lucky, she'll feel nostalgic and make it again! 

Spinach and Ricotta Manicotti

Serves 4

8 manicotti shells
15-oz. container light ricotta cheese
8-oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained of excess moisture
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

1/8 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1 large egg, beaten
2 cups Marinara sauce (homemade or store-bought)

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella

Preheat oven to 375°F. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta shells according to package instructions. Drain well and arrange in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet. 

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan, the beaten egg and spinach. Season filling with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Transfer filling to a large zip-top plastic bag, or piping bag with a circular nozzle. Twist and squeeze the bag so that the filling is in one corner. If using the plastic bag technique, snip a 3/4-inch opening in the corner of the plastic bag. Pipe filling into both ends of each pasta shell. In a shallow oven-proof baking dish, spoon a thin layer of marinara sauce to just cover the base. Arrange the stuffed shells over the sauce, side by side. Cover the shells with another layer of Marinara sauce, just covering them. Top the assembled manicotti with the remaining Parmesan and all of the Mozzarella.

Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes before serving and garnish with a basil or whole chives. Serve with some homemade garlic bread and a crisp green salad.