Thursday, January 16, 2014

Cheese-Stuffed Manicotti

Stuck In the Middle With You by Stealers Wheel
This is the song that started playing around in my mind as I crammed these manicotti shells full of delicious cheeses.  Perhaps it was the cheeses singing!  Although Rafferty and Egan's song doesn't seem any too happy about being stuck in the middle of where they were, for the most part, I find fillings to be a source of joy!  Especially when they involve ooey gooey cheeses . . . and fresh parsley.  Parm to the left of me, Ricotta to the right, here I am, stuffing the middle with you!

This recipe has been in my 
recipe box so long I can't even remember
where it came from and when!
I do remember, however, initially being completely
intimidated by the idea of trying to shove
any kind of filling inside a tube of pasta.
Then someone told me I could cut
the tube open and just lay the filling down the
middle and then roll it back up
and place the seam side down.
Which is how I did it for a couple decades.

When I started watching the cooking
shows I saw that pastry bags were used
for making more things than pastries!
You could use them to squeeze things
into just about anything!
But then I didn't feel like making that
many things dirty while I 
was preparing my meals.
It took fewer utensils to just
slit the shells open and spoon in the filling.

I saw the disposable pastry bags!
Ding! Ding! Ding!
No washing out and drying the pastry bags?
No need to always use a tip?
Just fill the bag, squeeze, then toss?
What a blessing!

Making stuffed manicotti became a
much cleaner endeavor!
Same great recipe, same great flavor!
But a much better clean up!

My family has enjoyed these shells for decades.
I hope you and your family will as well!

Cheese-Stuffed Manicotti
serves 4
8 manicotti shells
1 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella, divided
1 c. ricotta or cream-style cottage cheese
1/3 c. grated Parmesan
2 eggs
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
1 t. onion powder
1 t. kosher salt
15 oz. marinara 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.  Season the water with a small handful of kosher salt then par cook the manicotti, taking the shells out 2 minutes before they should be completely done - check the package directions.  Cool.

In a bowl, stir together half of the shredded mozzarella, the ricotta, Parmesan, eggs, fresh parsley, onion powder, and kosher salt.  Mix until blended well.  Set aside.

Coat a casserole dish with cooking spray and then put 1/4 c. of the marinara sauce in and spread around to coat the bottom of the dish.  Place the cheese filling in a pastry bag.  Hold one of the partially cooked manicotti shells in one hand, using your palm to block off the one end, and place the tip of the filled pastry bag into the other end of the manicotti shell with the other hand.  Squeeze and fill the tube to the end with the filling.  Place the filled shell into the prepared casserole dish.  If you don't have a pastry bag, simply slit the shell open and, using a spoon, place 1/4 - 1/3 c. mixture down the center and roll back up and place in the dish with the seam on the bottom.  Repeat with all the shells.  
Cover the filled manicotti with the remaining marinara sauce and top with the remaining mozzarella cheese.  
Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes or until bubbly and the cheese has browned in spots.
The cheesy filling will ooze out a bit but that's the best part!!  

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