I'm not sure that there is a food that exists that is more comforting that pasta. Filled pasta takes that comfort to the next level. This is Italian-American food at its best.
This meal is a bit time consuming, but if you break it up into parts--sauce one night, filling and assembling the next, even baking it and serving it a day later, it is doable, and the end result is totally worth the effort. I made this on a Thursday night, and my kids helped while my baby whined, and 2 hours later, we were eating dinner! Of course, I used homemade ricotta cheese, because that stuff just can't be beat! (Homemade ricotta will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks--so go ahead and make some!)
RECIPE FOLLOWS THE JUMP!
Beef and Cheese Manicotti
Source: Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentiis
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 cups ricotta cheese (or 1 15-oz. store bought container)
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
2 tbl. chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 tsp. olive oil
12 pieces manicotti shells, (1 8-oz. box)
1 1/2 cups Marinara Sauce
1 tbl. butter, cut into pieces
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat a medium size skillet over medium heat; add the ground beef and onion and saute until the meat is browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
In a medium bowl, mix the ricotta, 1 cup of mozzarella, 1/4 cup of Parmesan, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper. Stir in the meat and set aside.
Brush a large baking sheet with 1 tsp. olive oil. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add a bit of salt. Working in batches, add the manicotti shells and cook until softened but still firm to the bite, about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the manicotti from the pot to the prepared baking sheet and let cool. Repeat with remaining shells.
Brush the remaining 2 tsp. olive oil over a 9x13 baking dish. Spoon 1/2 cup of marinara sauce over the bottom.
Fill the manicotti tubes with the cheese-meat mixture and arrange the stuffed pasta in a single layer in the prepared dish. Spoon remaining marinara sauce over the manicotti. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over the manicotti. Dot the top with the butter pieces. (At this point, the manicotti can be covered and refrigerated for 8 hours and baked the next day)*.
Bake the manicotti uncovered until it is heated through and the sauce bubbles on the bottom of the dish, about 35 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
*When I bake something straight from the refrigerator, I always put the pan in the oven as the oven is preheating. When the oven is up to temperature, then start the timing. Never put a cold dish straight into a hot oven--it will crack the dish.
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