Sunday, September 28, 2008

Shell-i-cotti (A new twist to the classic manicotti)

Bear with me while I become corny with the title of my food creations... it may sound dorky but it's sooo good. I decided to invite my parents over for dinner to celebrate my mother's birthday and having been accused of only knowing how to make two things, I decided to surprise my mom with a twist on one of favorites, manicotti.

Ingredients for the cheese stuffing:
  • Large pasta shells
  • 1 small-medium white onion, finely diced
  • 1 small can of mushrooms, chop into smaller chunks
  • 5 oz. of frozen chopped spinach
  • 8 oz of cream cheese
  • 8 oz ricotta cheese
  • 8 oz of mozzarella cheese, shredded (or the handy dandy "Italian blend shredded cheese")
  • Handful of flat-leaf parsley (also called Italian parsley), finely chopped
  • Spices: salt, pepper, oregano
  • Pasta sauce, you can use pasta sauce from the store but I've included a simple recipe below as well
The "How-to"

  1. Place the pasta shells to boil according to the directions on the box. Only cook them 1/2 to 3/4 of the way (al dente) since they will finish cooking in the oven later. Speaking of oven, go ahead and pre-heat to 350
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, cream cheese, 1/2 the mozzarella, onions, spinach, mushrooms, parsley, salt and pepper. Now the fun part! Playing with your food.. get your hands in there and mix it all together!
  3. Once mixed, set aside to see if your pasta shells are finished (again, you want them to be a little stiff to hold the cheese mixture and they will finish cooking in the oven)

  1. Drain the hot water and then rinse your pasta shells with cold water (this will stop the cooking process)
  2. In a shallow cooking dish, place a thin layer of pasta sauce on the pan (this will prevent burning)
  3. Stuff each of your pasta shells with the cheese stuffing and place in the cooking dish
  4. Pour pasta sauce and the remaining mozzarella cheese on top
  5. Cover with foil and place in oven, bake until cheese on top is melted
Ingredients for the pasta sauce: (you can use the ready made bottle stuff too)

  • 1 can of diced tomatos
  • 1 can of tomato sauce
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • basil (if you have it)
  • 2 pieces of Roasted red bell pepper, chopped
  • Olive oil
The "How-to":
  1. Heat oil (about one turn of the pot), not too hot otherwise you'll burn the garlic
  2. Sautee onions and garlic
  3. If you like your sauce smoother, then in a blender, add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, roasted red bell peppers, add in the sauteed onion/garlic mix... add in basil and pour back into pot till it boils
    If you like it chunky, then add the diced tomatoes, sauce and chopped roasted red bell pepper to the pot and boil
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste
  5. TIP: if your sauce it too sweet, add a tbsp. of red wine vinegar (or white vinegar). Don't have that? Add lemon juice.
To add a different texture to your sauce, add some alfredo to it and make a tomato cream!

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