Thursday, March 6, 2008

Beef and Cheese Manicotti

When I think of manicotti, I think of Nina, my mom's cousin's wife. We go to their house every year for Christmas Eve, and she always makes the traditional fish dinner. As kids, we wouldn't eat the fish, so she would make manicotti for us and her own children. Now, we still aren't big seafood fans, so she still makes it for us. :)

I found this recipe in Giada's Everyday Italian and couldn't wait to try it. It was rather tedious for a weeknight, however; next time I will probably do it on a weekend when I have more time.

Here is the recipe, with my alterations in red:

1/2 pound ground beef (I used turkey, and I used a whole pound because that's what I had.)
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 (15-ounce) container whole-milk ricotta (I used part-skim.)
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella (No idea how much I used - I just grabbed fist-fulls. I heart cheese...)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced (I used one large one, and it tasted WAY too garlic-y... and I LOVE garlic. Maybe because there was already garlic in the sauce...?)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 teaspoons olive oil
12 (8-ounce package) manicotti (I started out with 14 since that's how many come in a package... but I had a few casualties...)
1 1/2 cups marinara sauce (I don't know how much I used - I just used some that I made over the weekend.)
2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces (I totally forgot about this step - whoops! But I don't think it made a difference... still yummy!)

Heat a heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon of the olive oil, onion and ground beef. Season with salt and pepper. Saute until the meat browns and the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, and cool.

Brush 1 teaspoon of oil over a large baking sheet. Cook the manicotti in a large pot of boiling salted water until slightly softened, but still very firm to the bite, about 4 to 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the manicotti from the pot to the oiled baking sheet and cool.

Meanwhile, combine the ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, 1/4 cup Parmesan, and parsley. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper to taste, and mix. Stir the cooled meat mixture into the cheese mixture.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush the remaining oil over a 13 by 9 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Spoon 1 1/2 cups of the marinara sauce over the bottom of the prepared dish. Fill the manicotti with the cheese-meat mixture. (This part was HARD! It took forever. Maybe it was just the whiny toddler who was scuttling around my ankles, but I ended up slicing the manicotti down the middle, spooning the mixture in, and trying to replace them nicely!) Arrange the stuffed pasta in a single layer in the prepared dish and spoon the remaining sauce over.

Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese, then the remaining Parmesan over the stuffed pasta. Dot entire dish with the butter pieces. Bake the manicotti uncovered until heated through and the sauce bubbles on the sides of the dish, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let the manicotti stand 5 minutes and serve.

I really enjoyed this dish. The flavors (except for the overpowering garlic!) melded together nicely, and I got a wholehearted "Good stuff, dude," from my husband.

I would definitely make this again.

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