Like me, my friend Sharon doesn’t really measure while cooking. We both tend to use a dash of this, a speck of that, a handful here and there. I acquired the skill from my grandmother, since Umi isn’t much of a cook. It’s the mark of a true cook, if you ask me, kind of like having all the recipes only in your head. Cooking is an experiment, and a fun one at that, so here’s a new recipe for you to experiment with.
(photo not taken by Sharon Gerlach so it may not look like this.
I’ll replace it with a picture Sharon’s taking soon)
(single batch; feeds 4 – 6 depending on appetites!)
Try to use fresh herbs if possible. Dried are fine if fresh isn’t available. If using dried, be sure to rub between hands to release the flavor before putting into sauce. Many ingredients are not listed in amounts—use according to personal tastes.
I recommend using a disposable baking pan, approximately 13 X 9. If making a double batch, use two pans—the manicotti will heat more evenly than if crammed into one huge pan.
2 boxes manicotti noodles
1 large container ricotta cheese
bread crumbs (Italian-herbed)
2 bunches of spinach (depending on personal taste)
1 head of garlic, pressed
2 large cans of tomato sauce
1 large can of tomato paste
1 packet of spaghetti seasoning
shredded mozzarella cheese
Filling: Add ½ of the pressed garlic to spinach & steam until limp but not mushy. Chop into small pieces, drain as much liquid as possible. Combine ricotta cheese, bread crumbs, spinach. Should be stiff but pliable.
Pasta: Put manicotti shells into boiling water and reduce the heat to remove the boil. Leave in water for 7 minutes, drain.
Sauce: Combine in saucepan over medium heat: tomato sauce, tomato paste, spaghetti seasoning, oregano, thyme, basil, onion powder, and the remaining ½ of the garlic. When sauce begins to show signs of boiling, reduce heat to low. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes and taste. Add herbs to taste (if necessary). If sauce is thicker than you prefer, add water in little bits until desired consistency is reached.
Shred cheese (if not purchased shredded) while sauce is simmering.
Pour 1/3 of the sauce into the bottom of baking pan.
Stuff manicotti shells with filling using a teaspoon or a pastry bag with no decorative tip (the pastry bag makes it go faster but is messier). Lay in sauce in baking pan as you fill each one. (If arranging in two layers, put a ladle or two of sauce and a layer of shredded cheese between layers of shells.)
If you have any filling left over, spread over top layer of manicotti shells. Pour remaining sauce over top and spread evenly. Top with shredded cheese.
Bake 350° for 30 – 40 minutes (increase to 1 hour if made in advance and refrigerated). If you simply insist on using one ginormous baking dish for a double or triple batch, you should increase the oven temperature to 375° and bake for 40 mminutes to an hour.
Serve with garlic bread.
Sharon has her own kitchen blog here.