Sunday, February 17, 2013

3-Cheese Manicotti Noodles

Manicotti Noodles

Every once in a while I want to make a dish with no main protein component. I know, I know, why would I want to do that? Anyone who knows me knows I love meat. Beef, pork, chicken, bacon...yes bacon gets its own food category. Bacon could be it's own food group in general, it goes on everything, wrapped around steak, topping for chicken, crumbled in a salad or dip...or soup, a side dish for breakfast...what was I saying? Oh yeah, every once in a while I want to make something that is meat-free. You know the whole Meatless Monday thing? Yeah I don't normally do that, but this dish has convinced me that I can make at least one thing without meat and it's still delicious.

I've made this one a few times and I have to say, I love it. Stuffed noodles with cheese. I love cheese almost as much as I love meat, meat topped with cheese and bacon *cue the angels singing* heaven! Sorry, I keep getting off track here with my food obsessions. So this is another recipe from one of my trusty Taste of Home cookbooks. The original recipe is huge and makes 10 servings so I normally cut it in half so I can feed 3 or 4 people comfortably and still have leftovers for lunch at work the next day. So shall we get started? Here's what you'll need...

10 uncooked Manicotti shells
1 carton (15 oz) ricotta cheese (I use low fat)
2-1/2 cups Mozzarella cheese, divided
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon dried Basil
1 teaspoon dried Oregano
3/4 teaspoon onion powder
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 jar (about 26 oz) Spaghetti sauce, I use Bertolli olive oil and garlic sauce

Now that you've got your ingredients gathered, boil some water for those noodles and get them going. I usually make 12 noodles just in case some of them break when they're cooking or split when I pick them up to get them out of the water or stuff them. Better safe that sorry, right?

OK so while your water is boiling, preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Then get a large bowl to start mixing the cheese filling.

In the large bowl combine the Ricotta cheese, 1-1/2 cups of Mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, the egg, and the seasoning. Just throw it all in the bowl, well maybe not throw but put it in the bowl like so...
 The Mozzarella...
 The Ricotta...
The Parmesan...
Now add the seasonings/spices to the mix and of course...
The lightly beaten egg!

Once everything is in there just grab a mixing spoon and stir it all together. Make sure everything gets blended really well, you don't want to have just random chunks of Ricotta or Mozzarella cheese. It tastes so much better when everything is mixed up and the flavors are intertwined within each other. So once it's all stirred together it should look like this.

When your noodles are done, take them out of the water gently and I usually place mine on a baking sheet coated with cooking oil just so the don't stick. I let them cool off for a few minutes so I can handle them while I stuff them with the cheese mixture. See how a couple of them split? Particularly the 4th one down on the left side? Yeah that happens, oh well.

While you wait for the noodles to cool down. get a 13x9 baking dish and spread about 1 cup of the spaghetti sauce into it. Pour it in, then use a spatula to spread it out evenly over the whole dish like so...

Now it's time to stuff those noodles! You have to be very careful while doing this so you don't bust open the noodles. It took me a couple of tries the first time I made this to not destroy the noodles as I stuffed the cheese into them. Just take small bit and ease it into the noodle. Use your hands, they'll get a little messy but it's easier than using a spoon. Take little clumps like I did here and...

...Stuff it into the noodle. I like to stuff it from both sides. I ease the mixture in towards the center of the noodle then add more on both sides until the noodle is completely stuffed. Now as you do this you're going to place the stuffed noodles into the baking dish on top of the sauce.

I arranged them like this last time and it worked out I could tell the noodles apart from each other once it was all covered with sauce and cheese, and of course baked. So once your noodles are all stuffed and arranged in the dish, cover them with the remaining sauce.

Now it's time to COVER it up and bake it! I just use aluminum foil to cover the noodles. Bake it at 375F for about 35-40 minutes. Once that's done, take it out of the oven and add the remaining Mozzarella cheese (I sometimes add a bit extra Parmesan cheese too).

Now you're going to pop it back into the oven UNCOVERED for another 10 minutes or so, until the cheese is melted into ooey-gooey goodness. This extra 10 minutes will also allow you to ensure the Manicotti noodles are heated throughout.

Usually about 2 noodles acts as one serving. If I'm absolutely starving I can eat 3 noodles, but mostly everyone who's had this has eaten 2 and been full.

You can always serve this with a side salad with Italian dressing, that would be pretty good. There's a few other variations of these noodles that I've been wanting to try. I'll let you know how they go. Maybe stuffing them with cheese, spinach, and shredded chicken...since I love my meat and all...
It's a simple dish and doesn't use a lot of dishes, which means not a lot to clean up. I really enjoy that part, cleaning up after making a mess in the kitchen is never as fun as you would think it would be...

But I hope you enjoy this one!
Happy cooking!
'Til Next Time!!

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