Mmmm…Cheese Manicotti

26 Aug

Cheese.  I love cheese.  I’ve never met a cheese I didn’t like, I may have already told you this.  For me, the stinkier and saltier the better.  Delicious!  On occasion, however, I love a good soft cheese, like fresh mozzarella or even ricotta cheese.  Sweet and creamy, smooth and flavorful!

Cheese lends itself really well to one of my second loves, pasta.  Like cheese, I adore almost all type of pasta, but especially those drenched in tomato sauce and cheese.  So it comes as no surprise that last week I had a longing for that wonderful dish of ricotta and pasta, manicotti.
It may seem involved and time consuming to make, but it’s incredibly easy.  The hardest part for me is waiting for it to finish cooking in the oven and not eat
 all the filling before I’ve put it in the shells.  
Ingredients (can easily be doubled):
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 – 20 minutes
Serves: 3 people
6 Manicotti shells

1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 tsp dried basil leaves
3 tbs chopped fresh parsley
1 whole egg
1 – 2 cups tomato sauce
1/2 – 1 cup mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
Procedure:
Cook the manicotti shells in boiling water for about 7 minutes, until they are soft, but still firmer than al dente.  In a bowl, combine the ricotta, basil, parsley, and egg.  Mix well.
In the bottom of a baking dish pour about 1/3 of the pasta sauce. Spread it around so it evenly covers the bottom. This will keep the pasta from sticking.
Wash the shells in cold water, and stuff with the ricotta mixture.  To do this, hold one open end against the palm of your hand.  Use a small spoon to scoop the mixture into the other end and give it a little shake to get the stuffing to the bottom.  This amount of filling will not stuff them full like at a restaurant, but about half full, which is plenty to be yummy and filling (like, in your tummy filling, not in the shell, which I hope I’ve just established).  
Place the stuffed manicotti in the dish and top off with the rest of the pasta sauce, making it as saucy or dry as you like.  Sprinkle the mozzarella and parmesan on top. Bake, covered, for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the pasta is completely cooked.  
For variety, you can add cooked spinach, sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, or anything else that floats your boat to the ricotta mixture.  I would have added spinach, but I managed to remember that I don’t like cooked spinach (this was a minor miracle; I always forget that I can’t stand the taste of spinach once its been cooked and then use it in dishes anyway!).
Got leftover ricotta?  Try topping it with some honey and serving alongside fresh fruit! Or skip the honey and use a fruit compote instead. Its creamy texture and light taste makes a great alternative to ice cream or frozen yogurt, and saves on the sugar. 
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