Tag Archives: ricotta cheese

Cheese, Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Manicotti

17 Jan

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.

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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.

 

manicotti - cheese, spinach and mushrooms

 

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

 

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350F.
  2. Let’s put together the filling…
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

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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.

My Plate

 

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Basil Cheesecake

24 Dec

I planned the whole menu for my sister’s baby shower… and appetizers is my thing. So I had a few ideas already in my mind. I would work with puff pastry to make something savory and something sweet. I would make a version of Rosemary Almonds but using cashews, which are easier on more adult teeth. Gotta think of the grandmas…

I brought with me an exquisite Pigeon Peas Antipasto too, but I was missing something else. Like a dip. But I was running out of ideas. I can’t make Veggie Dip one more time!!!

Then… I remembered a recipe I had seen from Giada DiLaurentiis – a savory cheesecake recipe designed to use a small cheesecake pan, just like the only one I have!! I had to adapt the recipe to make it egg-free and integrated some ideas I have learned while making Pumpkin Cheesecake over Thanksgiving.

Hope you enjoy it as much as we all did… this recipe is a keeper. Great for making in advance… great to bring to a party too!!!

basil Cheesecake  KFC

SAVORY BASIL CHEESECAKE

Butter, for greasing the pan
1/2 cup part skim ricotta cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces 1/3 less fat cream cheese, at room temperature
3 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
2 tbs sour cream
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tsp egg replacer + 4 tbs water
Pinch of salt and freshly cracker pepper
1/2 packed cup chopped fresh basil
Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
  1. Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a small bowl mix together the egg replacer and the water. Whisk well to combine and set aside. The mixture will foam and grow a bit.
  3. Butter the bottom and sides of a 4 1/2-inch diameter spring-form pan. Wrap the outside of the pan with a piece of heavy-duty foil. If you don’t have heavy-duty foil, just double on the foil.
  4. Place the ricotta cheese, cream cheese, goat cheese and sour cream in a food processor. Pulse until mixed.
  5. Add the brown sugar, the egg replacer mixture, salt and pepper and blend until smooth. Add the basil and pulse until incorporated.
  6. Pour the cheese mixture into the prepared spring-form pan. Place the pan in a glass baking dish that’s slightly larger. Pour enough hot water in the baking dish to come halfway up the sides of the spring-form pan. Make sure the foil top edge is above the water line.
  7. Bake until the cheesecake is golden at the edges and the center of the cake moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken (the cheesecake will become firm when chilled), about 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and allow the cheesecake to cool in the oven for 1 hour.
  8. Remove the spring-form pan from the baking dish and remove the foil. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate the cheesecake for at least 3-4 hours. Remove the cheesecake from the spring-form pan. Allow the cheesecake to come to room temperature before serving, about 30 minutes.
  9. Drizzle the top of the cheesecake with extra-virgin olive oil and serve with assorted crackers.

This is a great recipe to make the day before you need it. Just chill in the fridge and get out before your guests arrive. The cheesecake will hold very well at room temperature.

basil cheesecake 2  KFC

Cheese and Spinach Stuffed Shells

18 Dec

I planned the menu for my niece’s baby shower last week.  As you know… I only plan vegetarian parties, so this baby shower would be no exception. Last time we catered a lunch, but after all that was left afterwards, I decided this time around I would do the catering myself.

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Over the next few posts you’ll enjoy some of the creations I prepared for the event. I am pretty audacious because I am not afraid of trying a new recipe onto 20-30 unsuspecting guests. Some are really not that new… but new twists on old favorites. Some are just improvisations at the last minute. Like this stuffed shell recipe for example…

The main course for the baby shower menu was Broccoli/Cauliflower Stuffed Shells. You’ve already read about it here. Pastas are so popular among non-vegetarians and so easy to make in advance that I decided this would be the dish to wow once again some vegetarian lifestyle non-believers. I didn’t want to make lasagna like I did for my nephew’s birthday just a mere 6 weeks ago. But stuffed shells give you the same make-in-advance advantages but in a very different presentation. People just feel is something completely different, when in reality, it isn’t.

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I was making 2 baking dishes of stuffed shells… so my instinct was boil two boxes of large pasta shells. I never knew how many shells that would yield. When I was halfway thru my broccoli/cauliflower filling I knew that I was going to run out of filling before I would run out of shells. So my instinct was to make a cheese/spinach stuffing with some extra cheese I had bought. My family always teases me that I exaggerate… maybe it’s the Cuban in me. But I always want to err on the side of caution… we have a saying in Spanish – “Pa’ que falte, que sobre.” which translates to that I prefer to have more food than we need than to be short. So I always buy a few extra cheeses and things when I am cooking for a party. Sometimes I don’t need them, but this time it came in extra handy.

Cheese Spinach Stuffed Shells

CHEESE AND SPINACH STUFFED SHELLS

About 30 brown-rice pasta shells – I use the Tinkyáda brand
2 tbs olive oil, divided for the filling and the tomato sauce
15oz ricotta cheese
8oz package 1/3 less fat cream cheese
8 oz cottage cheese
1 cup parmesan cheese, divided
4 large handfuls of fresh baby spinach, chopped
1 handful of basil leaves, chopped for filling
Another handful of basil leaves –chopped for sauce
28oz of diced tomatoes
About 1 tbs apple cider vinegar
4 oz of crème fraiche
4 oz of sour cream
½ cup of milk
6 Slices of fresh mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive Oil
  1. Bring a large pot filled with salted water to a boil.
  2. While the water boils, add the pasta shells. Cook for about 5-7 minutes until they have grown in size a bit, are flexible to the touch, but still not fully cooked. Drain the pasta shells and rinse with cold filtered water to stop the cooking process and cool them enough to handle. Set aside.
  3. For the filling, mix together the ricotta cheese, cream cheese, cottage cheese, ½ cup of parmesan cheese, baby spinach and basil leaves for the filling. Season with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. It helps when the ingredients are at room temperature.
  4. For the tomato sauce, mix together the diced tomato, salt, pepper, vinegar, basil leaves and a small drizzle of olive oil. Set aside.
  5. For the white sauce that goes on top, mix together the crème fraiche, sour cream, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and season with some salt and pepper. Set aside.
  6. Now we assemble… in your baking dish 9 x 13 glass baking dish pour the tomato sauce on the bottom. Using a small spoon, fill each shell with the cheese mixture and place in the baking dish. I can accommodate about 3 rows of 10 shells each.
  7. After all the shells are filled and placed on the baking dish, spoon the white sauce over the shells. Now sprinkle some additional parmesan cheese on top of the white sauce and finish with pieces of fresh mozzarella on top.
  8. Now we bake at 400F for 25-30 minutes or until the top crust is golden brown. If you find the top is not browning, just turn the broiler on and watch the oven until it starts getting golden. Turn the broiler off and wait a few minutes. It’ll brown a little bit more with the oven off, you’ll see. As always… leave it there for about 10-15 more so it finishes cooking with the residual heat in the oven.

You can certainly assemble everything the night before your event, cover completely and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake. I usually take out of the fridge about 30 minutes before I want to bake… or before pre-heating the oven. Then bake as directed above.

Cheese Stuffed Shells - in progress

This dish was such a hit!!!! Both, these shells and the original broccoli/cauliflower ones, were all a great success. Even my cousin has asked me to show her how to make the recipe. It’s simple, no?? She’s excited I am posting here, but she wants a full-on demo in her kitchen. So now I know what I am eating the night before the Miami ½ Marathon I am running next month!!!!

Have you ever come up with a recipe “on the fly” that was as successful as your original recipe???? Please share…

Peach Cherry Fruit Salad

17 Aug

I told you about my case of peaches and case of cherries… I also told you about my Peach and Cherry Crisp dessert that rocked my friend Walter’s world.

And, what about when you have no time to bake something? You create a fruit salad…

I discovered the wonders of ricotta cheese for breakfast already… you can use it as a base underneath some berries, you can layer it in between fruit and granola in a parfait, but you could also TOP some fruit as if it were yogurt or whipped cream.

PEACH AND CHERRY FRUIT SALAD

1 peach, peeled and cut into pieces
About 6 cherries, washed and pitted
One large dollop of ricotta cheese
About 1 tbs of raw turbinado sugar
  1. Now we just assemble… in the prettiest bowl you can find place the cut fruit and top with the dollop of ricotta.
  2. Sprinkle with raw sugar to sweeten the cheese and create a bit of sauce from the juices the fruit exude.

Wouldn’t this serve as a very pretty idea for a brunch or romantic breakfast??? Any other ideas on how to combine fruit and ricotta cheese???

Eggless Potato Soufflé

22 Jul

Purists out there will lynch me… I know this is not a traditional egg-based potato soufflé, but it sure rises in the oven just like a soufflé does. I believe it’s the power of mashing and whipping the potatoes by hand that gives them that airy and fluffy consistency. Even though they have lots of cheese, they still feel light and airy.

This is a nice twist to a regular mashed potato dish… hope you enjoy it too.

 

EGGLESS POTATO SOUFFLÉ

3 large russet potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and cubed
¼ onion, grated finely
1 ½ cups ricotta cheese
½ cup sour cream
4 tbs melted butter
Salt and Pepper to taste
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
Olive oil Spray
  1. In a medium saucepan, place the potatoes with water going about ¾ of the way up the potatoes. Do not cover them completely with water, I find they cook faster with less water. Salt the water generously. Boil the potatoes until fork tender.
  2. Drain the cooked potatoes and return them to the same hot saucepan and add the grated onion, ricotta, sour cream, butter. Mash until the potatoes and mix-ins are fully incorporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. I sometimes add a little bit of olive oil… but only sometimes if I feel the mixture is too dry.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 350F.
  4. Take a 9” x 11” glass baking dish and spray with cooking spray. I sprinkle the parmesan cheese on the baking dish and shake it around so the parmesan sticks to the spray in the pan creating a coating. If there is any excess parmesan cheese, add it to the mashed potatoes.
  5. Pour the mashed potatoes onto the baking dish. Smooth out the top and sprinkle some additional parmesan cheese on top.
  6. Bake for about 30 minutes for the cheeses to fully blend and melt into the potatoes. You’ll see how the potatoes will fluff up just like a soufflé does…
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