I’m going to teach you a shortcut that will *really* make your Manicotti dinner easy! But first, a little about noodles:
I have always loved noodles of any kind. I was the kid who was thrilled with just getting the noodles in the can of Campbell’s soup, and hoping my sister got all of those icky chewy square chicken pieces. I used to love when Mom would make plain noodles and then put butter on them. And I loved cheese-filled noodles, especially the cheese filling that was in raviolis that I’d order when we went out for Italian food at Petrini’s (which has been in Santa Barbara since 1958!)… or Marianne’s Italian Villa. Of course, I had no idea what that cheese was, only that it was “special”. AND… I knew that this same special cheese was in manicotti, which Mom didn’t make often enough, in my opinion. Looking back, I remember it only showing up on nights we’d have company… hmmm… maybe it *was* special. Or maybe it’s because it was a pain in the neck to stuff all of those droopy noodles. Yep, that was probably it.
Well, problem solved. This recipe makes it easier to stuff them, and the amazing shortcut will go even further than that. BUT…. you have to wait. The shortcut it at the bottom.
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 lb. ground Angus Beef (organic/grass fed)
2 Tablespoons dried oregano
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 jars of your favorite Marinara Sauce (yes, jars. Get one without soybean oil though)
(we are making it simple, remember?)
3 cups Parmesan Cheese, freshly grated
2 cups Mozzarella Cheese, freshly grated
1 – 15oz. tub Ricotta Cheese
1 egg, whisked
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon minced Italian Parsley
1 box Manicotti Noodles
Preheat oven to 375°.
Heat oil in a large wide, deep skillet over medium heat. Add beef; break up larger pieces. Season with pepper and continue to stir. Add oregano and pepper. Stir, and let sit for a few minutes. Keep stirring occasionally until meat is completely browned through, and it is broken into small pieces. Add jarred sauce. Add about 2 Tablespoons of water to each jar; add lid and shake well to release remaining sauce. Pour into skillet. (This also helps to thin the sauce too).
Meanwhile, combine all ingredients of cheese filling in a large bowl. Open up a gallon sized freezer bag, and add cheese filling. Close the zipper on the top of the bag, and cut a very small part of one corner of the bag (see photo); set aside.
Boil water in large deep pot. Add noodles. Cook for 4 minutes, and remove noodles with a large slotted spoon onto a plate.
Spoon about 1 cup of sauce into the bottom of a 9×13 glass pan; spread around so it covers the bottom.
With a noodle in one hand, and the zippered bag in the other, gently pipe cheese sauce into the first half of the manicotti shell. Turn the noodle around, and pipe cheese filling into the other open side. Set noodle in pan, and repeat until all space is taken in the pan.
Top with remaining sauce. Sprinkle remaining cheeses over the sauce.
Bake in oven for approximately 40 minutes, or until cheese becomes golden and bubbly. Let sit at least 10 minutes before serving.
See how easy this was? Think you’ll be making it soon?
Now for the AMAZINGLY great SHORTCUT…
Years ago I cooked from a recipe book that was full of freezer meal ideas. One of the best things I learned was that manicotti can be frozen, if done properly.
Here’s what you do: Follow my (or your own) recipe, but when you fill the shells, make sure they are still completely uncooked. Once they’re filled, put them back in the little plastic trays that held them in the box originally. Wrap each tray first in plastic wrap, and then in a freezer bag. Freeze up to a couple of months.
When you want a manicotti dinner, just pull them out of the freezer, and treat them just like my recipe above: Spoon sauce in the baking dish, add the manicottis, top with sauce and cheese, and then bake for approximately 30-45 minutes until they’re cooked through and cheese is golden.
I’d love to hear what you think! Please leave me a comment!