My un-married friends (which is not the same as being single) and I like to get together and celebrate ourselves, our friendship and the Xmas season. We were also celebrating the new remodeled kitchen at one of my friend’s… She invited us all for a night of music, great company and Madelyn’s cooking.
That’s the funny thing… my friend loves to cook, and she does it very well, but when she invites, Madelyn does the cooking. I do not mind at all because it gives me a chance to showcase a few recipes I’ve had in the works. Tired of the same Xmas food fare people eat at most parties during the season, I planned a healthy pasta menu with low-fat cheeses and tons of flavors. Annie Mariel would bring the salad… something composed, that’s her type of cooking.
This pasta dish is super simple and you don’t even need to cook the pasta beforehand. Due to time and availability this time around, I made this recipe using regular semolina pasta, but I have certainly made it using brown rice pasta and whole wheat pasta. In none of those cases I have pre-boiled the pasta. There is no need to do that as long as you have enough liquid for the pasta to cook in. The liquid will come from the tomato sauce and the liquid in the filling. This is a mix and bake recipe perfect for entertaining or a pasta night with the family.
CHEESE, SPINACH AND MUSHROOM STUFFED MANICOTTI
1 box of whole wheat manicotti 1 box of Pomi chopped tomatoes 16 oz tub of part skim ricotta cheese 16 oz tub of cottage cheese 1 cup of grated Parmesan Cheese, divided 1 cup of shredded Italian Cheeses, divided 1 cup frozen spinach, mostly thawed and finely cut 1 packet of button mushrooms, finely chopped ½ onion, chopped finely 1 clove of garlic, smashed 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme 1 tsp soy sauce 1 tsp balsamic vinegar ¼ cup of toasted pine nuts 1 tbs basil, chopped – I use the freeze dried kind or Italian Seasonings Olive oil Salt and pepper to taste
- Pre-heat oven to 350F.
- Let’s put together the filling…
- In a medium skillet over medium-hi heat, add a drizzle of olive oil and add the onion, garlic clove and mushrooms. Mix together and cook without stirring too much so the mushroom get to brown and caramelize. Move them once in a while, but leave them alone for periods of time and allow them to get brown.
- When the mushrooms are brown and fragrant, and to me they smell like steak, believe it or not, add a splash of soy sauce and a splash of balsamic vinegar to season. Add the thyme leaves and sauté a few times. Discard the pieces of garlic you may find and set aside.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the ricotta, the cottage cheese, ½ cup shredded cheeses and ½ cup Parmesan cheese. Also add the toasted pine nuts and the spinach, squeezing any extra liquid from it, but it does not have to be super dry. We want some moisture still because it will help cook the pasta. Also, add the cooked mushrooms. Mix everything together. Season with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and set aside.
- In another bowl, add the chopped tomatoes, a drizzle of olive oil, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and season with salt, pepper and the basil or Italian seasonings mix. Mix everything together to combine all ingredients well.
- Transfer ½ the sauce to the bottom of a 9” x 13” baking dish. I used a disposable baking dish because I do not bring my vegetarian-only dishes to anyone’s home where I am not 300% they’re vegetarian just like me.
- Using a small spoon, fill each dried manicotti sleeve with the cheese/spinach/mushroom filling we just did. Place each manicotti sleeve one next the other in the baking dish. Some will go one way, the rest across, but they should all fit. This is the most time consuming part of the process. Keep on going until all manicotti sleeves are filled with cheese. If you have any leftover filling, like I did, don’t worry. I have a Round 2 recipe for you to use it in a new different application.
9. Pour the rest of the tomato sauce over the filled manicotti. Top with the remaining shredded Italian cheeses and grated Parmesan.
10. Place in oven for about 30 minutes to allow the pasta to cook in the tomato sauce. You’ll notice when the sauce is bubbling and the pasta has softened. If the top is not golden brown, turn the broiler on and allow the cheeses to get crispy on top. When it’s golden delicious, I turn the oven off and leave the pasta in there for another 15 minutes to let it finish cooking with the oven’s residual heat. This will ensure the pasta is cooked, yet still al dente.
Serve with your favorite side dishes… and for us Puerto Ricans that means sweet plantains are on the menu too. We also served it with Annie Mariel’s awesome composed salad. It may not have been the traditional typical Xmas menu, but it was my last cooked meal of 2012 and I LOVED it!!!! I hope you love it too.