Recipe: Classic Manicotti

I had the opportunity to make Manicotti in Arizona for dinner one night, we are a family that LOVES pasta & cheese. This recipe gives us the chance to have it all in one dish and use a variety of cheese for the filling. I do like the shortcut of jarred pasta sauce, since there are so many really good sauces available now. One of my favorite jarred sauces is Muir Glen Organic, sweet and mellow sauce with practically no acidity or bite, which is a detrimental feature of some other sauces.

Boil one package of manicotti shells short of al dente, because they will finish cooking in the oven covered in sauce. Toss them with a little olive oil to prevent them from sticking together until you are ready for them. Note that you can also use jumbo shells for this recipe.

Since I am a cheese nerd, I feel compelled to offer my humble opinion on the cheese you may use in this and other recipes. For best flavor use fresh cheese, pre-packaged shredded or pre-grated cheese is usually a sub-par product. If I haven't begged you to throw out the "green can" yet, please do....it's as far away from real cheese as you can get. If you have access to a quality cheese shop you are going to want to splurge every so often for some excellent cheese. High end grocery stores are paying much more attention to their cheese tables, and you are much better off purchasing hunks of real Parmigiana Reggiano, and fresh Mozzarella for your cooking. Even Costco carries decent
Grana Padano, Parmesan and fresh Mozzarella. If it seems like a lot of work to grate large amounts of cheese by hand for recipes, hint heavily that you are in need of a food processor, a 10-12 cup Cuisinart style is perfect for the job.... besides it's almost Christmas, and your partner will be thankful that they know of a least one thing you want under the tree!

Basic Cheese Manicotti Filling
16 oz tub fresh part-skim ricotta cheese
8 oz freshly shredded Grana Padano cheese (or Parmesan)
16 oz freshly shredded Mozzarella cheese (save half for top)
1 egg
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 F, lightly oil a baking dish with olive oil. Stuff manicotti with a small spoon, pastry bag or your fingers. Arrange in baking dish, pour 1- 2 jars of your favorite sauce, depending on how "saucy" you like your dish. Sprinkle remaining shredded Mozzarella on top. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until everything is bubbling and cheese is lightly golden. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Variations on the filling:
Try 8 oz of fresh Goat cheese (Chevre) and 8 oz of Ricotta mixed together.
If you have a favorite cheddar, (I have access to
Rogue Creamery's Rosemary Cheddar), shred an 8 oz block of that in place of the Mozzarella, then shred 8 oz of Mozzarella just for the topping.
In place of the Grana Padano, you can use
Vella Dry Jack, or Mezzo Secco.
You can also add chopped, drained spinach to the cheese filling, very yummy!

Sauce variations:
Try adding sauteed, drained ground beef, Italian sausage, lamb, veal or turkey to your jarred sauce before pouring over the manicotti shells.

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Cincinnati, OH, United States
A dedicated foodie, with a passion for the best food. Favorite food crushes include; Cheese, Wine, Breads, Seafood, anything made with eggs, ...there's actually no point in a list, there isn't much out there I don't have a crush on. Transplanted from the Northeast at age 18, a whole new frontier of food was opened up to me. I have fished for Salmon, hunted for mushrooms, cracked open fresh oysters from the sea and devoured them on the spot. Figs, pears, peaches, so many indigenous jewels! I dedicate this BLOG to the endless variety this region provides. My hope is to live here for a very long time & continue to discover and experience it's unique bounty! Alas, my life has now taken me to Cincinnati, OH where the food culture is like none I have ever experienced.


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