Tag Archives: tomato sauce

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.


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



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.

cooking 3

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


Broccoli and Cauliflower Stuffed Shells

24 Jun

  A few weeks back I was figuring out what to do with the broccoli I had gotten in my CSA box…  I like it steamed or as part of a salad… but the farmer had told me the leaves are really good and I just was not sure how to cook them.  In Puerto Rico, or maybe it’s just me, we are not too fond of cooked leafy greens.  It’s just not part of our regular culinary vernacular.  But lucky enough, I saw this recipe for stuffed cannelloni from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie at Home.  It was just the recipe I needed to use up a lot of broccoli in one single recipe.

The broccoli I get in my CSA box is small… sometimes I questioned if it was really broccolini or even broccoli rabe.  So that’s why I used a few bunches of my CSA broccoli, but the recipe calls for ½ a broccoli stalk.  I guess you could use it all if you wanted.  This CSA broccoli came with lots of leaves, so that’s why I really wanted to use up and not waste.

CSA - Brocoli

When I am trying out new recipes, I rarely like to cook them just for myself.  Some people call me brave because I am willing to test and try out things I have never cooked before on my friends.  So I invited my friends Annie Mariel and Laura to try out this recipe with me… these were the brave and lucky two who got to try this one first.  Since then, I have made this recipe a bunch if times… they loved it!!!  When my mom tried it she thought the filling had cheese in it…   it’s so creamy.

But don’t be intimidated by the ingredient’s list…  I looks like there are too many ingredients, but if you think of it in components in the dish, it’s neither that long nor very difficult.  You’ll see…

  Stuffed Shells - Broccoli 3


½ of a large head of broccoli, chopped into medium sized pieces, including the stem and leaves
½ head of cauliflower, chopped into medium sized pieces too
2 tbs olive oil, divided for the filling and the tomato sauce
6-7 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
A pinch of Red pepper flakes – you can add more if you like the heat
About 12 -16 brown-rice pasta shells – I use the Tinkyáda brand
½ cup sour cream
½ cup Devon double cream – it’s a Jamie Oliver-inspired recipe, I had to use English cream…
¼ cup parmesan cheese
1/3 cup fried tomato sauce or pureed tomatoes
About 1 tbs vinegar – I’ve used white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
3 slices of fresh mozzarella cheese
Basil leaves – optional
  1. Bring a large pot filled with salted water to a boil. 
  2. While the water boils, chop the cauliflower and broccoli.  Make sure you peel the outer skin of the broccoli stalks and chop the leaves as small as possible.  Do not use the stems of the leaves, just the leaves.  The stems will never puree well… I tried. 
  3. P1070371
  4. Add the chopped broccoli and cauliflower to the salted boiling water and cook for about 10 -15 minutes.
  5. When the broccoli and cauliflower have been for about 5 minutes already in the pot of water, heat 1 tbs of olive oil in a medium sized pan with tall sides.  Add the garlic slices and the red pepper flakes and cook until the garlic is golden, but not browned or bitter.
  6. Very carefully pass the broccoli and the cauliflower to the pan where the garlic and pepper flakes are.  Drain the vegetables as much as you can before placing in the oil, because the oil WILL SPLATTER.  I usually have a splatter guard in hand to make sure the oil does not catch me.  Mix the veggies with the garlic and pepper. 
  7. brocoli y coliflor blanched
  8. Add some salt and pepper to season and cook covered for about 30 mins, until the vegetables turn into an unrecognizable mass where they no longer retain their vegetable shape.  The leaves will not disintegrate…
  9. While the veggies cook, let’s prepare the sauces…
  10. For the tomato sauce, mix together the tomato puree, salt, pepper, vinegar and a small drizzle of olive oil.  Set aside. 
  11. For the white sauce, mix together the double cream, sour cream, most of the parmesan cheese and season with some salt and pepper.  Set aside.
  12. Also, bring again the large pot of water (with new water please…) to a boil.  Add salt and 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.
  13. Shells - Par Boiled
  14. After the veggies are cooked, use an immersion blender to turn the veggies into a puree.  Make sure all the leaves are pureed and remove any stringy parts that may be around…
  15. Now we assemble… in your baking dish pour the tomato sauce on the bottom.  Using a small spoon, fill each shell with the broccoli/cauliflower puree and place in the baking dish. 
  16. Stuffed Shells - Broccoli 2
  17. After all the shells are filled and placed on the baking dish, spoon the white sauce over the shells.  If you want, now is the time to add some basil leaves, put I have made it without and the dish doesn’t need it…  now sprinkle some additional parmesan cheese on top of the white sauce and finish with pieces of fresh mozzarella on top.
  18. Now we assemble25-30 minutes, or until the top crust is golden brown.  As always… when the time is up, just turn the oven off and leave it there for about 10-15 more so it finishes cooking.

  Stuffed Shells - Broccoli 1

I served this with a very simple tossed salad and sweet baked plantains.  We had mango sorbet with kiwi pieces for dessert…

Re-creating the Pizzas as Co. Part 2 – Margherita Pita Pizza

12 Apr

When we visited Co. in New York City, we had their wonderful Pizza Margherita.  To me, this is the best pizza hands down.  It highlights the best of ingredients… the simpler the pizza the better the ingredients must be.

This is my own attempt to recreate Co.’s Pizza Margherita to my friends…




Makes 1 personal pizza


1 whole-wheat pita bread, the larger the better
2 tbs of my Chunky Tomato Sauce or any other light tomato sauce for that matter
 3 – 4 slices of fresh mozzarella cheese – make sure it’s the fresh kind, not the part-skim processed kind
3-4 basil leaves
A drizzle of olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper


  1. Pre-heat your oven to 450 F.
  2. Place pita bread in a parchment lined baking sheet.  Spread the tomato sauce all over the bread.   Place the slices of mozzarella on top.  Place the basil leaves around.  Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper and drizzle a bit more of olive oil on top.
  3. Place in the oven and bake until the edges of the pita bread start to toast and the mozzarella browns a bit.
  4. Take out of the oven and let it cool off a bit.  After about 3 minutes, cut into 4 slices using a pizza wheel slicer.



That night, we also had our homage to Co.’s Popeye Pizza.   Check it out…

“Camarones” Enchilados / “Shrimp” Creole

2 Mar

When I was in Miami recently, I visited this Chinese market where they sold many soy based products, like the ones I usually buy when I go to Chinatown in NYC.  I brought with me 2 bags of “shrimp”…  why?  Because my aunt in Miami makes the most awesome Enchilado de Camarones or Shrimp Creole and I missed tasting these flavors a lot.

I did not have time to make this in Miami, so I interviewed my aunt for her recipe… and being from the same family, she also cooks without measurements, so this is my interpretation of her recipe.



1 cup of tomato sauce – I use Viter Fried Tomato Sauce
2 tbs of sofrito
¼ cup of apple cider vinegar
½ cup of water
1 bag of soy “shrimp” product, defrosted
1 bay leaf
Salt and Pepper to taste
Drizzle of olive oil
2 roasted sweet bell peppers, sliced thin


  1. In a medium pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the sofrito and sauté lightly for a few minutes.    Add the tomato sauce, vinegar, water, bay leaf, salt and pepper and cook for about 5-8 minutes.  The idea is to cook the tomato sauce and impart the flavors for the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Add the “shrimp” to the tomato mixture and braise in the sauce for about 20 minutes at medium-low heat.  Cover so the sauce does not evaporate much.
  3. At the end, add the sweet bell peppers and turn off the stove.  Leave covered for about 10 minutes until the sauce cools down a bit before serving.


Serve over whole grain rice and a side of sweet baked plantains.  The sweet taste will balance the salty/tart taste of the tomato sauce of the “shrimp”.

The funny thing… I made this dish for a group of friends who are NOT vegetarians.  Some of them knew these where not real shrimp but some of them didn’t.  They devoured the whole dish.  None of the “shrimp” were left.  My friend Kristina has not failed to mention to me once after this how delicious the sauce was…  to me that spells SUCCESS!!!

If by any chance you have some sauce left over and you do not want to throw it out… cook some baby potatoes in the sauce and serve over rice again.  They will taste delicious…

%d bloggers like this: